Hot tips to prevent your child from scalding burns

Plus dos and don’ts for when a burn happens

April 04, 2014
Burn safety for children

It can happen in an instant when small children are playing underfoot: An excited youngster moves suddenly and tips over a container of hot soup.  A curious toddler reaches up and grabs the handle of a pot of boiling water. A baby shifts in your arms, and your cup of hot coffee splashes everywhere.

Steam, hot bath water and hot foods are common culprits for scalding burns, especially for children. Babies are the most frequent victims of hot liquid scalds, while toddlers commonly spill hot liquids by pulling at tablecloths, pot handles and cooking appliance cords.

In 2013, the UC Irvine Medical Center Burn Intensive Care Unit admitted 91 children under the age of 14 for a burn, says Dr. Victor C. Joe, director of the UCI Health Regional Burn Center. “Of those 91 children, 54 percent were injured by a scald. Our most common problem is hot liquid – in many cases instant soups, since they are easy to tip over.”

Burns from hot liquids are preventable. 

“We should teach our children there is a ‘no-kids zone’ around the stove. It takes a child only one second to knock over a hot pot on the stove,” says Joe. When cooking, turn pan handles inward, away from the edge of the stove. “Children move quickly, so do not cook or hold an open cup of hot liquid while carrying a child.” Consider using a travel mug with a lid when drinking hot liquid. And to prevent burns from the water flowing from faucets, set the water heater temperature at 120 degrees Fahrenheit 

Home or ER treatment?

A first-degree burn – one that produces redness and minor swelling – can usually be treated at home. Remove clothing from the burn and run cool water over the area. You may also apply aloe up to three times a day for comfort.

However, seek medical help immediately if the burn area is more severe, if it covers more than an area the size of the palm of your hand or if the burn is on the face, scalp, hands, joint surfaces or genitals. If a burn comes from a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals, seek immediate medical attention. Swelling and increasing pain or redness are other signs that it’s time to visit the emergency room. 

Here are some basic dos and don’ts for when a burn occurs:


  • Run cool water on burn. Apply cool water – not cold – on minor burns for three to five minutes to stop the burning process.
  • Apply aloe gel. Using aloe on a first-degree burn helps soothe pain. Apply a few times a day.
  • Take ibuprofen. This will help reduce pain for adults and children over the age of 12. Refer to the dosing guidelines on the label.
  • Keep the burned skin clean. If the area affected is smaller than the size of a quarter, keep it clean with a sterile gauze pad or bandage for 24 hours.
  • Remove jewelry. Gently remove jewelry if swelling occurs around a burn.

Do not

  • Use home remedies. Do not apply butter, grease or powder to the burn. Those substances can cause a deeper burn and increase risk of infection.
  • Break blisters. Breaking blisters at home could lead to infection. If blisters become large and problematic, seek medical attention.
  • Remove stuck clothing. If clothing sticks to a burn area, wait for medical assistance for proper removal.
  • Immerse in ice water. Immersing a burn in ice water can cause a person to lose too much body heat and become hypothermic. It would also reduce blood flow to the wound and increase severity of burn.
  • Apply adhesive bandages. Putting sticky surfaces on an open wound could cause more pain.

For more information about various types of burns, call the UCI Health Regional Burn Center at 888-622-2876.

— Tanya M. Salcido, UCI Health Marketing & Communications