If your child appears to be unconscious, call 911.

There are three different types of burns: thermal (fire), chemical and electrical, and three degrees of burn:

  • First-degree burns cause the skin to be red and tender (like a sunburn). This affects the outer layer of the skin (epidermis). First-degree burns can take up to four days to heal.
  • Second-degree burns cause the skin to be red, painful and to blister. This affects the second layer of skin (dermis). Second-degree burns can take up to six weeks to heal.
  • Third-degree burns cause the skin and nerves to die. This type of burn may cause the skin to appear charred or white. It can cause severe pain or no pain if there is nerve damage. This affects the subcutaneous tissue (hypodermis) deep in the skin. Third-degree burns can take months to heal. This often involves skin grafting, where healthy skin is attached to the burned skin.

You can treat most first- and small second-degree burns at home. Any third-degree burn needs medical attention right away. Call 911 or get your child to a hospital Emergency Department without delay.

How to treat a first- or second-degree burn

  • Run cold tap water over the burned area right away. Do this for about 5 minutes. The cold water will clean the burn, relieve the pain and speed healing.
  • Apply an antibiotic ointment (such as Bacitracin®).
  • Cover the burn with a bandage or sterile gauze.
  • Wash the burn every day.
  • Change the bandage every day until the burn has healed.
  • Do not open blisters; they keep infection out.
  • Give your child acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®) for pain relief. Follow package instructions for your child's age or weight.

Do not apply ice, butter, creams, lotions or similar items to any burn.

When to call your health care provider

Call your health care provider for an appointment if:

  • the burn covers a large area (such as the buttocks, stomach or face)
  • the burn becomes infected
  • fluid in a blister looks discolored
  • the burn is electrical or chemical
  • the burn doesn't heal after seven days

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education, Guide for the Care of Children: Ages Birth to 5, sixth edition, ped-ah-91554
First Published: 02/01/2010
Last Reviewed: 11/16/2022