Health Library

Child Safety: Preventing Burns

Topic Overview

Burns are a potential hazard in any home. There are four kinds of burning hazards that may hurt your child:

  • Heat burns
  • Electrical burns
  • Friction burns
  • Chemical burns

Heat burns

Heat burns, also called thermal burns, are caused by contact with fire, steam, hot objects, or hot liquids. Tap water is a leading cause of nonfatal burns.

Protect your child from heat burns in the following ways:

  • Keep children away from kitchen appliances, irons, fireplaces, portable heaters, and wall heaters. Use screens to block off areas, if needed. When outdoors, keep your child away from barbecue grills and campfires.
  • Install scald-resistant faucets in sinks, showers, and bathtubs that children use. These fixtures have built-in thermostats to control the maximum temperature of the water. Set the thermostat so that the water temperature doesn't exceed 120°F (50°C).
  • Use kitchen range dial protectors, which prevent a child from turning on the heating elements of a stove.
  • Cook with pot handles turned away from the edge of the stove and on the back burner when possible, out of the reach of children.
  • Be careful not to spill hot beverages when carrying or drinking them around children.
  • Consider buying pajamas made of flame-resistant fabric for your child.
  • Keep your flammable garage items out of the reach of children.
  • Enjoy fireworks from a distance. Fireworks injure children each summer. Children can also get burns from using and being around firecrackers and sparklers.

Electrical burns

Electrical burns are caused by contact with electrical sources or by lightning. Electrical current passing through a person's body may injure blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. Also, the throat and lungs can swell rapidly and severely, making breathing hard. The current can also damage the heart.

Protect your child around your home by using the following safety measures:

  • Place plug covers on all outlets.
  • Unplug all electrical items that are in your child's reach.
  • Use extra caution when using electrical items in areas where water sources are nearby, such as using a hair dryer in the bathroom.
  • Don't let your child play with toys that must be plugged into an electrical outlet.
  • Take your child indoors and close all windows and doors during an electrical storm.
  • Don't overload electrical outlets by using too many extension cords or electrical receptacle multipliers.
  • Replace electrical equipment and appliances that show signs of wear, such as having frayed or loose wires.

Friction burns

Friction burns are caused by contact with any hard surface such as pavement ("road rash"), carpets, or gym floor surfaces. Most friction burns that occur in young children aren't serious. But they can be uncomfortable and painful. You can help prevent friction burns in the following ways:

  • Avoid dragging or pulling your child across carpet while playing.
  • Provide safety equipment for physical activities. Two examples are knee pads and elbow pads for roller skating or riding scooters.

Chemical burns

Chemical burns need evaluation and treatment. Call the Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222 for specific treatment for a chemical burn. Have the product container with you when you call.

Burns can result from contact with a solid, powdered, or liquid chemical. A chemical burn may be serious because of the action of the corrosive or irritating chemicals on the skin. A chemical burn on the skin is often deeper and larger than it may first appear. Chemical fumes and vapors can also irritate or damage the body, especially the skin, lungs, and eyes. A swallowed chemical may be poisonous or may cause burning in the throat and esophagus.

Help protect young children from chemical burns by keeping the following types of items completely out of reach:

  • Toilet cleaners
  • Battery acid
  • Bleach
  • Lime products
  • Plaster and mortar
  • Oven and drain cleaners
  • Fertilizers
  • Sparks from "sparklers"

If your children use battery-operated toys, make sure the batteries are in protective casings that require assistance from an adult to open (such as casings secured with screws).

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD - Pediatrics
Specialist Medical Reviewer Thomas Emmett Francoeur, MD, MDCM, CSPQ, FRCPC - Pediatrics
Last Revised November 26, 2012

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