Children & Adolescents Clinic

 Home Parent's Guide

Clinical Reference Systems: Pediatric Advisor 10.0
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Thermal Burn


Most of these burns are from hot water, hot drinks, hot grease, heating grates, and cigarettes. Usually the burn is first degree (reddened skin without blisters) or second degree (with blisters). Neither of these leaves scars. Second-degree burns take up to 3 weeks to heal. A third- degree burn is deep and leaves areas of charred skin. During healing it usually needs a skin graft to prevent bad scarring.


Immediately (don't take time to remove clothing) put the burned part in cold tap water or pour cold tap water over it for 10 minutes. If you are outside, the nearest garden hose should be used. This will lessen the depth of the burn and relieve pain. If the burned area is large, cover it loosely with a clean sheet. You can also use plastic wrap. The covering will keep the burn clean and reduce the pain.


  1. Treatment

    Wash the area gently with liquid soap twice a day. Don't open any blisters--the outer skin protects the burn from infection. If the burn is second degree, the blister is broken, and the skin is gone, put an antibiotic ointment (such as bacitracin or Betadine) on it and cover it with a Band-Aid or sterile gauze dressing. Do not put any butter or burn ointments on the burn. Wash the burn, reapply the antibiotic ointment, and change the Band-Aid or dressing daily.

    For pain put cold wet cloths on the burned area and take acetaminophen every 4 hours or ibuprofen every 6 hours for at least 24 hours.

    Note: Once the blisters break open, the dead skin needs to be trimmed off with fine scissors. Otherwise, the hidden pockets become an ideal breeding ground for infections.

  2. Prevention

    Think about how you can prevent similar accidents in the future. Also, install a smoke detector.


  • A blister is larger than 2 inches across.
  • The burn is on the face, hands, feet, or genitals.
  • It was an electrical burn.


  • It starts to look infected.
  • It isn't healed within 10 days.
  • You feel your child is getting worse.
  • You have other questions or concerns.

Written by B.D. Schmitt, M.D., author of "Your Child's Health," Bantam Books.
Copyright 1999 Clinical Reference Systems