Dealing With Burn Wounds: What Every Parent Should Know

Tragically, burns are one of the leading causes of death and injury to urban children under the age of 14 years in Southern Africa, according to statistics gathered by the World Health Organisation. The Medical Research Council reports that more than 3 in every hundred people suffer from burn injury each year, with children and infants being the most vulnerable of this group.

Children, especially at toddler age, are most susceptible to burns when they are confined to small spaces. Also, their skin is much thinner than adults’ so is less resistant to harsher burns, which can result in life-long scarring or disability.

Most burn injuries happen in the home. If we don’t take precautions and educate our children correctly from an early age about burn prevention, and the dangers of fire and heat, the risk of being burned increases.

The most common ways people get burnt in the home are by:

  • Cooking with hot oil or boiling water - This is the most common cause of burn injuries in babies and young children. Usually, this occurs when the child reaches for the saucepan or frying pan containing hot oil or water on the stovetop.
  • Hot drinks - Babies are often burned when they are breastfeeding and the mother accidentally spills hot tea or coffee. Curious toddlers get burned when they pull themselves up using the table where the hot drinks have been placed.
  • Too-hot bath water - Sometimes children will climb into the bathtub not realising the parent has only run the hot water and still needs to add the cold.
  • Using paraffin - This is the most common cause of burns to adults and children. Paraffin is highly flammable and burns easily. If the liquid is spilt the fire will spread quickly and cause severe and extensive damage.
  • Heaters or fires in winter and braais in summer - This is a common way for flammable materials to catch fire. When people leave candles or fires burning and heaters on throughout the night, during the cold winter months, accidents happen.
  • Faulty electrics - People get burnt from electrical faults in plugs, light switches and exposed cables.

How to prevent burn accidents from happening

  • Don’t leave children unattended in the home and make sure the caregiver is a responsible adult who is trained in First Aid.
  • Keep handles facing in when cooking on the stove - try to cook only on the back rings. Buy cordless kettles.
  • Don’t hold a hot drink when attending to an infant.
  • Put hot drinks near the centre of the table when there are small children around and stop using tablecloths at all.
  • Never leave a young child unattended near a heat source - not even to go for a few seconds to the next room.
  • Lower the temperature of your geyser.
  • When running a bath for your child run cold water first and then the hot water after.
  • Don’t leave children unattended around a braai and stop them from playing close to the braai area.
  • Check for faulty electrics and fix them immediately.
  • Keep a burn kit with your First Aid box in your home.

How to prevent fire accidents in your home

  1. Try to have smoke alarms installed in all bedrooms or and just outside those sleeping areas.
  2. Buy a fire extinguisher for your home and budget to get it serviced annually.
  3. Never leave a lighter or matches where a child can reach them.
  4. Make sure the paraffin stove is out of reach of children and placed on a stable and safe work area.
  5. Never go to bed without putting fires and candles out and switch off all heaters.
  6. Switch off all heaters, kettles and stoves when there is a power cut.
  7. Have a home fire escape plan - at least two different routes out of each room.
  8. Exits from your home must be clear to move through quickly and easily - don’t place furniture or other obstructions across doorways.
  9. Create a meeting point outside your home and share the information with your family, explaining why it would be needed.

What does burned skin look like?

A first-degree burn will appear red, painful and dry but there will be no blisters. A second-degree burn will blister and the skin may thicken. A third-degree burn will cause the skin to look thickened with a white, leathery appearance or look blackened and charred.

How to treat a burn

  1. Remove the person from the heat source without endangering yourself. If possible put out the fire or switch the electricity off at the mains.
  2. If appropriate, do Stop Drop Roll with or without a blanket, to extinguish the flames. Douse burning clothing with clean water if electricity is not involved but usually leave it to the paramedics or hospital to remove any fire-damaged clothing.
  3. Remove all jewellery and watches as burns swell quickly.
  4. If you have a burn kit, use it accordingly.
  5. For a first-degree burn, which means the top layer of skin is burned, run cool tap water over the injury, or use a cool compress if there is no access to running water or a Burnshield dressing.
  6. For a second-degree burn, which means the person has been burnt through two layers of skin, run cool water over the injury 15 to 20 minutes.
  7. Loosely cover the burn with a clean cloth or sterile bandage from the first aid kit.
  8. Do NOT use any ointments, like Vaseline, or food products, such as butter, on the burn.
  9. Do not break the blisters because this may cause additional pain and infection.

When to seek medical help

  1. For a first-degree burn or second-degree burn, it is only necessary to see a doctor if the burn site gets worse or the pain doesn’t subside after a few hours.
  2. You should also see your doctor if the burn area is blistered or larger than the palm of your hand.
  3. For a third-degree burn, the victim must immediately be brought to the hospital but cool the burn first.

If you are concerned about the healing of a burn wound, historic burns or you want to learn more about the prevention of burn accidents, contact Children of Fire at

For more information please contact:
Children of Fire
+27 (0) 11 726 6529

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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Heads Up on Head Injury in Children

If you are a parent of young children, it is likely that you are hugely fearful of your child suffering a severe blow to the head. This is understandable, as children are highly susceptible to falls and bumps, especially when they are under the age of 14.

Furthermore, studies have shown that up to 4% of children who have had a seemingly mild head injury will develop complications (Continuing Medical Education, Vol. 31, no.3). It’s a really minor percentage, especially when you consider that only 5% of people in South Africa (adults and children) sustain serious head injuries. Nevertheless, even the smallest chance of this happening to your child is very scary.

From babies who accidentally fall off a changing table, to children who fall off a skateboard or bicycle, or boys who bash heads in a rugby scrum, parents need to take a blow to the head seriously and seek medical help if there are any grounds for concern.
Head injuries can take several forms. A mild injury may be a bruise, an egg-shaped swelling or a shallow cut on the head. More serious injuries include concussion, a deep head wound or even a fractured skull bone. A severe injury is likely to involve internal bleeding or damage to the brain.

When to see your doctor:

If your child has sustained a blow to the head, how will you know that he or she should see a doctor?
Fortunately, most bumps will cause, at worst, a bruise with some swelling – which can be remedied with a kiss and cuddle and some physical rest, or an icepack on the bruise. Within hours, or even minutes, the child will back at play again.
However, a more serious blow will cause symptoms that parents should be aware of. These are the warning signs to watch out for:

Signs that the child should be monitored:

● Headache, sensitive to light and noise, irritable
● Confused or dizzy, balance is poor, struggling to concentrate
● Feeling nauseous
● Feeling tired
● Blurred vision or eyes feel tired

Watch the child carefully and see a doctor if there is no improvement within 24 hours. Trust your instincts. If you aren't comfortable with your child's appearance, call your doctor.

Signs that your child should see a doctor:

● “Seeing stars" and feeling dazed, dizzy, or lightheaded
● Trouble remembering what happened right before and after the injury
● Nausea and vomiting
● Headache won’t go away
● Neck stiffness or pain
● Blurred vision and sensitivity to light
● Slurred speech or saying things that don't make sense
● Problems concentrating, thinking or making decisions
● Difficulty with coordination or balance (such as being unable to catch a ball or other easy tasks)
● Feeling anxious or irritable for no apparent reason

These symptoms usually indicate a concussion. A concussion is a temporary loss of normal brain function and in most cases is mild and won’t cause long-term damage. Children with a mild concussion will need to take a break from physical activity for a week or two and give the head a chance to rest.

When to take your child to the emergency room:

● The child is unconscious
● The child is experiencing seizures or convulsions
● Blood or clear fluid is draining from the ears or nose
● The pupil in one eye looks larger than the other
● There is a deep wound or laceration in the scalp
● Pale and sweating
● Slurred speech and behaviour changes
● Struggling to walk or weak on one side of the body

Besides the obvious distress the child may be experiencing, these symptoms also suggest that the child will need an expert assessment of the extent of the injury.

Treatment and recovery:

In most cases, applying an ice pack or Arnica to a bump on the head is sufficient.

● Rest is also important. Avoid rough play or sports for a couple of days or until the doctor says it’s OK.
● Getting plenty of sleep while the brain is healing is vital.
● For recovery from concussion, mental rest is also important, which means restricting both homework and video games! Get your doctor’s advice on this.
● Severe injury will need medical supervision. The child may need stitches in the head, a period of hospitalisation, moderate sedation, and assistance with breathing, or even surgery.

Precautions and prevention:

It's impossible to completely prevent an injury, but you can do a lot to protect your child from severe head blows. These simple precautions will go a long way towards protecting your child:

● Childproof your home and ensure a safe playing environment to prevent household accidents. For instance, soften the corners or surfaces that your child may bump into and put heavy objects that could fall easily out of harm’s way. Provide a cushioned surface under play equipment. A garden lawn is still the cheapest and most effective option, but specialised artificial surfaces or playground sand also work very well.
● When driving, always use a child safety seat or seat belt.
● Ensure that children wear helmets when they’re on anything with wheels, such as a tricycle, bicycle, roller skates or skateboard.
● Ensure that children wear safety headgear when playing contact sports like rugby or boxing, or when playing cricket or baseball. Even hockey sticks can be hazardous.

For more information or in the case of a medical emergency, please contact:
IPSS Medical Rescue on emergency number +27 (0) 823 911 911

Disclaimer: Any information contained here is merely a guideline. Always visit your healthcare practitioner for any health-related advice or diagnosis.

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