How to Prevent and Treat Burns from Everyday Household Items
Pay attention to these four items in your home to prevent your children from getting burned.
Get kid-friendly activities sent to you!
Get the Best Family Activities
- Large burns that are more than a few centimeters in length
- Any burn on the face, hands or in the genital area (cosmetics and function are very important for these body parts)
- Burns that cross over a joint (healing skin can contract, decreasing mobility at the joint so careful splinting of the extremity is important)
- Blistering burns
- Burns that are painless (partial- and full-thickness burns should be evaluated by a clinician familiar with burn care)
When a body part gets burned, the first order of business is to run the burned area under cool water. This arrests the damage pattern of thermal injury. It can also help to wash out any dirt fragments that may have come in contact with the skin. Next, pat the burn dry with a soft, clean cloth and cover with a clean, dry bandage. Do not put anything on the burn (not even creams, liquids, foods or butter). Greasy ointments (such as butter or cocoa butter) on top of a burn will retain the heat of the burn, slowing down the healing process. This is why we recommend immediately running a burn under cool water. Additives in these substances, such as fragrances in cocoa butter, can also be irritating to the skin.
Administer some pain reducer medicine such as acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil or others) and call your doctor for direction, or proceed to nearby emergency or urgent care for further assessment. Depending on the size or location of the burn, your child may be referred to a regional burn center for further evaluation and management, or you may be asked to follow up in a specialty burn clinic. These are both important resources to take advantage of if they are suggested to you. Much of burn healing is a marathon, not a sprint, and so getting plugged into a follow-up clinic can be critical for a good outcome. Some burns require specific dressing changes and splints, which may change over time as the burn heals.
If you read this entry and come away only with the message of “I’d better not put butter or cocoa butter or toothpaste” on a burn, I will feel satisfied that I have done my job based on the number of times I have seen strange home remedies come into acute care.
If you now have a new burn classification system you can share in casual conversation, I will have more pep in my step. And as you burn-proof your house, make sure your hot water heater thermostat is set no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit, and learn how to give first aid to a burn. That will near about make my day and inspire me to learn yet another of those groovy Fortnite dances all the kids are doing. Your call.
Christina Johns, M.D., M.Ed., is the Senior Medical Advisor at PM Pediatrics and author of the blog, Dear Dr. Christina. As a parent, pediatrician and pediatric emergency physician with a master’s in education, she shares her own expertise, plus the wealth of knowledge from our highly skilled staff, with patients and families everywhere. Follow Dr. Johns on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for even more tips and articles.
Main image: Experts recommend turning pot and pan handles in to prevent children from reaching up and pulling the hot pots and pans down, as well as cooking on the back burner to further remove the pots and pans from children's reach.