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 in a child?

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 in a child?

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. If you have any question about the cause or severity of the symptoms, take your child to their healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is a first-degree burn diagnosed in a child?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. They will give your child a physical exam. The diagnosis of a first-degree burn is based on 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 in a child?

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how much of the child's body is burned and 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

  • Do not apply butter, grease, or powder to the burn.

  • Over-the-counter medicine, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen, for pain and swelling, Follow the label directions for how much to give and how often.

  • 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 in a child?

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.

What can I do to prevent a first-degree burn in my child?

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.

  • Set up a “kid-free zone” in your kitchen. Teach children to stay at least 3 feet away from the cooking area.

  • Teach older kids how to cook safely.

  • Check bathwater temperature before placing a child in the water.

  • When bathing children, place them facing away from the water faucet so they won’t accidentally turn on the hot water.

  • Be careful with hot drinks.

  • Keep hot appliances in safe places, out of a child's reach, and unplugged when not in use. This includes toasters, irons, and hair-styling tools.

  • Teach children never to play with matches and lighters and keep these items out of reach of children.

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

  • A large area of your child's body is burned

Key points about a first-degree burn in children

  • 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 healthcare provider:

  • Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.

  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.

  • At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.

  • Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects are.

  • Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.

  • Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.

  • Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.

  • 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.

Online Medical Reviewer: Liora C Adler MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ronald Karlin MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stacey Wojcik MBA BSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2023
© 2000-2024 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.