Camping First Aid and Safety

Basic Guide to Treating Burns in Kids when Camping

Burns can be painful and scary. Learn the best tips for treating burns in kids quickly even if you’re away from home and camping!

Burns are incredibly scary. And what makes them so frightening, isn’t necessarily that they’re always really severe, but its that they really, really hurt. And when things are incredibly painful, our kids react violently. Calming a hysterical child after a minor burn is much, much worse than treating burns in kids.

Kids will burn themselves. It’s not a question of IF they’ll do it, but a matter of HOW. Most of the time it’s on oven ranges by touching something hot on the stove. My daughter got a mild burn on her leg this year from using a sparkler on July 4th. Burns happen. They don’t mean you’re a negligent parent. Kids are curious little creatures and sometimes that causes them to get hurt. 

Minor burns are really simple to treat at home! But, before we get into treating burns in kids, it’s important to understand a bit about burns. Burns are classified by the amount of damage they do to the skin and other body tissue.

The Three Classes of Burns:

First-degree burns

  • Impact the top layer of skin only
  • Heal quickly
  • The skin will turn red and be painful

Second-degree burns

  • Impact the top layer and second layer of skin
  • Require medical attention
  • Blister
  • Turn red
  • Usually swell
  • Usually painful

Third-degree burns

  • Severe and require immediate, professional medical attention
  • Dry/charred, white, yellow or bright red tissue.
  • The burned area may not be blistered, but it is often surrounded by blistered areas.

Immediately after a burn, you may not be able to tell the severity because burns are continually changing, this is one reason treating burns in kids can be so challenging. In the first 2-5 days after injury, it can be difficult to determine the depth of the burn.

When to call 911

Call 911 if:

  • If the burn is from a fire, an electrical wire or socket, or chemicals
  • Larger than 2 inches (5 cm)
  • Charring (blackened) or blistering skin
  • On the hand, foot, face, genitals, buttocks, hip, knee, ankle, shoulder, elbow, or wrist

Treating Burns in Kids

First Aid for Burns

  • Stop the burning process by Run cool water over the burn until it doesn’t hurt as bad. Sometimes this takes 10-15 minutes.
  • DO NOT use ice directly on the burn wound, this can cause frostbite FAST.
  • DO NOT apply home remedies/ointments. 
  • Cover the burn with a clean bandage or cloth.
  • Give Ibuprofen or Acetaminophen for pain.
  • Seek medical attention if needed

Caring for Minor Burns

If it is a minor burn:

  • Clean the burn gently with soap and water.
  • DO NOT break blisters. An opened blister can get infected.
  • You may put a thin layer of ointment, like petroleum jelly or aloe vera, on the burn.
  • DO NOT use cream, lotion, oil, cortisone, butter, or egg white. Butter or lard may feel cool because it comes out of the refrigerator, but the oils will trap heat and make the burn deeper over time.
  • If needed, protect the burn from rubbing and pressure with a sterile non-stick gauze lightly taped or wrapped over it.
  • DO NOT use a dressing that can shed fibers, because they can get caught in the burn and it will hurt.
  • Change the dressing once a day.
  • For pain, you can give your child over the counter pain medications as directed on the bottle. Always check with your pediatrician if the child is younger than 2.

What to Expect

  • Minor burns could take up to 3 weeks to heal.
  • Burns itch as they heal. Don’t let your kids scratch it.
  • The deeper the burn, the more likely it is to scar. If the burn appears to be developing a scar, call your doctor for advice.

When to Call the Doctor

Call your doctor if the burn starts to have signs of infection:

  • Increased pain
  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Oozing or pus
  • Fever
  • Red streak from the burn

Wrapping Up

When your kids suffer a burn- no matter how severe- it’s important to know exactly how to react and respond. Treating burns in kids is really simple once you know the proper steps.


Mazzeo AS, Price LA, Gerold KB. Burn care procedures. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts & Hedges’ Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 38

Singer AJ, Taira BR, Lee CC. Thermal burns. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 63.

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