Chemical Burn of the Skin (Child)

Burns damage the skin and tissues under the skin. Some burns are caused by chemicals. Chemical burns can affect just the skin. They can also affect the entire body.

Symptoms of a chemical burn include pain, rash, redness, swelling, and blisters. Even small burns can damage underlying tissue. Severe chemical burns may cause shock. Symptoms of shock include:

  • Cool, clammy skin

  • Shallow, rapid breathing

  • Fainting or unconsciousness

Common household cleaning products contain dangerous chemicals. These include ammonia, bleach, and lye. Drain cleaners, laundry detergent packets, and rust removers are very toxic. Potentially dangerous chemicals can also be found in hair, skin, and nail products.

Chemical burns are first treated by flushing the affected skin with clean water or saline. The burn is flushed for at least 20 minutes, or until the pain eases. This cuts down on the amount of the chemical. If the chemical is a powder, the powder is brushed away. Contaminated clothing is carefully taken off. The doctor will put an antibiotic cream or ointment on the burn. He or she may cover the burn with a sterile dressing. Medicine and cool, wet compresses can ease pain. Minor burns will heal without additional treatment. Severe burns take longer to heal. They may also scar.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for your child at home:

The healthcare provider may prescribe an antibiotic cream or ointment to prevent infection. The provider may also recommend a pain medicine. Follow the provider’s instructions for giving these medicines to your child.

If you need to change the bandage:

  • Follow the provider’s instructions on when and how to change the bandage. Also follow any instructions on how to care for the wound.

  • Remove a bandage that sticks to the skin by first soaking it in warm water.

  • Gently remove any adhesive by using mineral oil or petroleum jelly on a cotton ball. Children have sensitive skin that can be irritated by adhesive.

General care

  • Wash your hands well with soap and clean, running water before and after caring for the wound.

  • Put cool, wet compresses on the area to ease pain as directed by your provider. Don’t use any burn ointments or salve.

  • Check the wound often for signs of infection listed below.

  • You may give over-the-counter medicine as directed to control your child's pain, unless another medicine was prescribed. If your child has chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your child’s provider before using these medicines. Also talk with the provider if your child has had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding. Never give aspirin to a child or teen younger than 19 who has a fever and is vomiting. It may cause severe disease or death.

  • You may use diphenhydramine for itching. Tell your child not to scratch or pick at the wound. Trim their fingernails short.

  • Dress your child in loose-fitting clothing.

  • Protect the wound from the sun.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your child’s healthcare provider, or as advised.

Special note to parents

Store all chemicals in a locked cabinet, out of reach of children. For information, call the National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222.

When to seek medical advice

Call your child's healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Fever greater than 100.4°F (38°C) oral or 101.4°F (38.5°C) rectal, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Redness or swelling of the burn that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid comes from the burn

  • Wound doesn’t heal

  • Nausea or vomiting

Call 911 or get medical care right away if you see signs of shock, such as cool, clammy skin, trouble breathing, or fainting.

© 2000-2022 The StayWell Company, LLC. 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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