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The seriousness of a burn or a scald depends principally on the size of the area involved rather than its depth, as it is the area which governs the amount of body fluid (plasma) that will be lost by oozing from the tissues. This can be very considerable if the burn is extensive and, in a young infant, even a small burn should be seen urgently by the doctor. However, if a burn is small but deep, this can result in bad scarring. In view of their seriousness, as well as the very considerable discomfort that is caused by any form of burn, the importance of taking every possible precaution to avoid their occurrence cannot be stressed too strongly.

Following a burn the skin rapidly becomes reddened and frequently blisters with some swelling of the affected area. In a superficial burn only the outer layers of the skin are affected; in a deep burn the whole of the skin thickness is involved including the nerve endings and therefore the pain will tend to be rather less intense.


The affected area should be immediately immersed in cold running water for five to ten minutes until the pain settles. In the case of a burn produced by hot liquid, all saturated clothing should be carefully removed without delay; burned clothing that is now cool and dry, and which has been sterilized by the heat, should not be removed immediately. Remove any tight articles such as rings before the affected part begins to swell as it might be very difficult to get them off later on.

If any blisters have formed, these should not be punctured as they provide an excellent protection to the underlying damaged tissues. The fluid within them will be absorbed within a few days. If any blistering has occurred, the area should, if possible, be left exposed - or, if the child will be getting dirty, covered with a clean, dry dressing (a handkerchief or sheet will do temporarily) - and attempts should be made to keep this dry to help healing.

Avoid all unnecessary contact with the burned area to prevent any infection. Do not apply creams or ointments if the skin surface has been broken. Aspirin or Disprin may be required to relieve the pain.

  • Unless the burn is very small, it is advisable to seek medical advice without delay so that the clinical state of the child can be assessed and appropriate treatment undertaken.
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