Hot Water or Other Liquid Burn (Child)

A child’s skin burns more easily than an adult’s. Hot water burns or scalds occur more often in children than any other type of burn. Most hot water burns are minor burns (also called first-degree burns or superficial burns). But hot water can also cause more serious burns. Children can be easily burned when they are near someone who is cooking or drinking hot liquids. They can also be burned by bath water that is too hot or by a hot beverage.

Minor burns damage only the top layer of skin. The skin is painful, dry, and red. Minor burns heal in less than a week. They usually don’t leave a scar. More serious burns can swell and blister. Some serious burns heal in 1 to 3 weeks without scarring, but the skin color may permanently change.

In the ER, burns are cooled with water, then carefully cleaned. An antibiotic ointment i may be put on the burn. Minor burns are left open to air. More serious burns may be covered with a sterile bandage. Children with major burns or with burns around the face, genitals, hands, feet, or joints may need to stay in the hospital. Or they may be transferred to a regional burn center hospital for treatment and observation.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for your child at home:

The healthcare provider may prescribe medicines for pain and infection. Follow the provider’s instructions for giving these medicines to your child. It's important to give your child pain medicine before changing the bandage.

General care

  • Follow the provider’s instructions when caring for the wound and changing a bandage.

  • Don’t put medical ointments or grease on the burn. This will hold in heat, make the burn more painful, and raise the risk for infection.

  • Don’t rub the burn.

  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of liquids, such as water, fruit juice, or clear soups. This will help prevent dehydration.

  • Keep your child from scratching and picking at the burn. Keep their fingernails trimmed short.

  • You may use diphenhydramine for itching.

  • Dress your child in loose-fitting clothing.

  • Keep the wound out of the sun.

Prevention

  • Be sure your child is not underfoot when you are cooking or drinking hot liquids.

  • Don’t leave a child to cook unattended.

  • Turn the water heater thermostat below 120°F (48.8°C).

Follow-up care

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

Special note to parents

Healthcare providers are trained to recognize injuries like this one in young children as a sign of possible abuse. Several providers may ask questions about how your child was injured. Providers are required by law to ask you these questions. This is done to protect the child. Please try to be patient and not take offense.

When to seek medical advice

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

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your child's healthcare provider

  • Pain continues or gets worse even after taking pain medicine

  • Your child isn’t interested in eating or drinking

  • Too little urine

  • Dark or strong-smelling urine

  • Sunken eyes

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Foul-smelling fluid drains from the burn

  • Wound doesn’t heal 

© 2000-2021 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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