Common childhood illnesses & well-being
A guide for parents and carers
Bumps, bruises & falls

Burns, scalds & choking

Knowing what to do

A burn is damage to the skin caused by direct contact with something hot. Burns can also be caused by certain chemicals, electricity and friction. A scald is a burn that is caused by a hot liquid or steam. Scalds are treated in the same way as burns.

Treat any burn or scald straight after the accident but always take your child to hospital for anything more than a very small burn or scald. A baby’s skin is very delicate and can be scarred without the right treatment.

Cool the burnt area by placing under cool running water for at least 20 minutes (making sure the child does not get too cold). When the burn has cooled, cover it with a sterile dressing, food quality cling film or a plastic bag. Don’t wrap it too tightly. Don’t apply fatty substances like butter or ointment as this won't do any good and will only waste time for hospital staff who'll have to clean the area before it can be treated. Give paracetamol or ibuprofen (see know the basics for advice on usage). Take your child to hospital.

Babies/toddlers pull up on everything when learning to stand and walk. Keep hot drinks out of reach and not on tablecloths that they may pull onto themselves. Look at home safety equipment like a stairgate to keep them safe.

Preventing scalds and burns

  • Always supervise children in the kitchen.

  • The front of the oven as well as a radiator, can become hot enough to burn a young child.

  • Use the back rings of cookers when possible.

  • Never drink hot drinks with a baby or child on your lap.

  • Never let a child drink a hot drink through a straw.

  • Never heat up a baby's milk in a microwave. Stir baby food well if it is heated in a microwave.

  • Candles should be up high and out of reach.

  • Put cold water in the bath first, then bring up the temperature with hot water. Always supervise, a baby can drown in only a few centimetres of water.

  • Hair straighteners and irons should be kept out of reach.

Choking, suffocation and strangulation

These result in the highest number of deaths in young children, there are three main groups, Inhalation of food & vomit, hanging and strangulation & suffocation in bed. Babies and toddlers can easily swallow, inhale or choke on items like marbles, beads, lolly sticks, balloons, peanuts,buttons, nappy sacks, plastic toy pieces, strings or cords. They can also choke on food or vomit, so need supervision when eating.

Babies can suffocate or choke on nappy sacks, keep all plastic bags out of reach.

  • Check that toys with small pieces are not left out for a toddler to chew and choke on.

  • Check that toys are age appropriate, in good condition and include toy safety marks.

  • Find out more about resuscitation (CPR) visit


My child has burnt or scalded themself.


Treat the burn or scald straight after the accident by running under cold water for 20 minutes. Do not use creams, lotions or ointments on the burn or scald.


For small burns take your child to the practice nurse or minor injuries unit.

For large or facial burns you should go to A&E.

If you are still worried call NHS 111. If you cannot get help straight away, go to A&E.