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First-Degree Burn in Children

What is a first-degree burn?

A burn is damage to tissues of the body caused by contact with things such as heat, radiation, or chemicals. A first-degree burn affects only the outer layer of skin (epidermis). 

What causes a first-degree burn?

The causes of a first-degree burn can include:

  • Mild sunburn
  • Very hot water
  • Hot object, like a pot or pan

What are the symptoms of a first-degree burn?

Symptoms can occur a bit differently in each child. Symptoms can include skin that is:

  • Red
  • Dry
  • Peeling
  • Painful for 48 to 72 hours and then feels better

The symptoms of a first-degree burn can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a first-degree burn diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam. The diagnosis of a first-degree burn is based the signs and symptoms, and recent exposure to something that can cause a burn. This may be the sun, something hot, or a chemical.

How is a first-degree burn treated?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is.

A first-degree burn usually heals on its own within a week. Treatment may include:

  • A wet cloth soaked with cold water (cold compress) held to the skin, to ease pain
  • Antibacterial cream, to help prevent infection
  • Other creams, to lessen pain and swelling
  • Over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain and swelling
  • Any other treatment advised by your child’s healthcare provider

First-degree burns are usually not bandaged.

What are possible complications of a first-degree burn?

Long-term tissue damage is rare and may be an increase or decrease in the skin color. In some cases, the area may become infected.    

Can a first-degree burn be prevented?

The following are some of ways to prevent burns in children:

  • Keep your child out of the sun. Use sunscreen when your child is old enough, usually at 6 months.
  • Make sure hot water is set below 120° F (48.8° C).
  • Put covers on electrical outlets.
  • Make sure pot and pan handles are turned toward the back of the stove.
  • Be careful with hot drinks.
  • Keep hot appliances in safe places. This includes toasters, irons, and hair-styling tools.

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child's healthcare provider if:

  • Your child has a fever
  • There is fluid leaking from the burn area
  • There is increased swelling or redness of the burn area

Key points about a first-degree burn

  • First-degree burns affect only the outer layer of the skin.
  • They may be caused by the sun, hot water, or hot objects.
  • They are treated by applying cold, like running water or a cold cloth, at first. Creams or lotions may be applied.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: Duldner, John E., MD, MS
Online Medical Reviewer: Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/20/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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