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Treating Pediatric Burns: Five Myths and Misconceptions

Patient with nurse

Children under 5 are twice as likely to be seen for burn injuries at a hospital emergency department. Lara received her care in Ohio after burning her hand on a hot plate of food.

One of the leading causes of injuries at home is accidental burns.

Curious toddlers and children are prone to scald burns, and nearly 75% of those burns are preventable.

The most common scald injuries for children under 5 occur in the kitchen and bathtub. Kitchen injuries can be caused by spilled beverages like coffee or tea, or snacks such as noodle soup. Bathtub scalds can occur when caregivers do not test the water temperature and proceed to place children into water that is too hot.

“Toddlers and young children are much more vulnerable to scald burns in particular,” said Ingrid Parry, president of the American Burn Association and physical therapist at Shriners Children’s Northern California. “Young ones are curious and want to grab onto anything within reach. Coffee cups without lids or hot soup and food can easily burn a small child.”

“Knowing what to do in case a scald burn occurs can help prevent a medical emergency,” said Parry. “There are many myths and misconceptions about burn injuries and treatments.”

MYTH #1 – Tap water cannot get hot enough to cause a burn.

“This is a common misconception,” said Sara Higginson, M.D., chief of staff at Shriners Children’s Ohio. “The tap water that flows into your sink and bathtub can be hot enough to cause a scald, especially to children under the age of 5.”

Solution: Check your water heater setting.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission urges users to reduce their water heaters to 120 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent scald burn accidents. Burn Awareness Week is an excellent time to ensure your water heater is set to a safe temperature.

MYTH # 2 – Use ice to reduce the pain.

“While some may think that ice will reduce the pain or burning sensation from a burn injury, you should avoid placing ice on the burn,” said David Greenhalgh, M.D., chief of burns at Shriners Children’s Northern California. “Ice can actually irritate the burn injury and cause additional damage to the skin.”

Solution: Use cool running water instead.

“Research demonstrates that the most effective way to reduce pain from a burn injury is to place the skin under cool running water for at least 20 minutes,” added Greenhalgh.

MYTH #3 – Home remedies like coconut oil, butter, tomatoes, toothpaste, honey or raw egg will heal a burn and reduce the pain.

“It’s hard to say anything definitive about traditional salves for burns because there are no controlled studies evaluating them. The primary goals of most topical medications is to prevent wounds from drying out and to minimize bacterial growth. You would not want to put a material rich with bacteria on an open wound,” said Robert Sheridan, M.D., chief of burns at Shriners Children’s Boston.

Solution: Seek immediate medical attention for treatment options.

“Patients and caregivers should seek medical attention, allowing providers to advise on appropriate treatment. This often includes some type of topical wound agent depending on the severity of the burn,” added Sheridan.

Patient with Dr. Sheridan

Shriners Children’s Boston Chief of Staff Robert Sheridan, M.D., has treated many types of burn injuries over the years. Samantha, who is being treated for a flame burn, recently presented him with a special drawing.

MYTH #4 – Rubbing alcohol should be used to treat a burn wound.

“Rubbing alcohol may seem like an easy way to clean a burn wound, but rubbing alcohol should not be used as an antibacterial solution,” said chief of burns at Shriners Children’s Texas, Jong Lee, M.D. “Rubbing alcohol can irritate the burn and can cause additional pain. Alcohol is also highly flammable and can catch on fire if the source of the burn is still nearby.”

Solution: Use cool running water to soothe a burn.

Dr. Lee also advises seeking professional medical attention after a burn occurs, but patients can use cool running water to immediately soothe the burn. “It’s important to keep the area clean and gently wash with soap and water, then covering the area loosely with a bandage.”

MYTH #5 – Popping burn blisters will heal the wound faster.

“Burn blisters are not like pimples,” said Tina Palmieri, M.D., assistant chief of burns at Shriners Children's Northern California. “The fluid and buildup within a burn blister is the body’s immune system's attempt to protect it from further infections.” Popping blisters increases the risk of further infection.

Solution: Avoid popping burn blisters.

Seek medical attention after a burn occurs and keep the area clean and covered. Burn blisters can form over mild to severe burns. Try to avoid touching or scratching the blisters, leaving them intact until the burn underneath heals.

At-home burn remedies are only suggested for minor first-degree burns. For more serious injuries, all the Shriners Children’s burn-care physicians recommend consulting a medical professional. Before applying any topical treatments or taking oral medications, seek medical attention from a burn care team.

Patient with Dr. Greenhalgh

Shriners Children's Northern California Chief of Burns David Greenhalgh, M.D., founded the burn program in Northern California over 25 years ago and has treated thousands of burn patients. He takes the time to make a special connection with each of them, usually resulting in a lot of smiles.

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