Pregnancy and baby

What to do if your child has an accident

How do I deal with burns and scalds? (9 to 30 months)

Media last reviewed: 28/02/2013

Next review due: 28/02/2015

Most young children have some injuries and accidents. Most will be minor, but it’s sensible to know what to do if the accident or injury is more serious.

Start by learning some basic first aid or revise what you already know. The British Red Cross, St John Ambulance and your local NHS Ambulance Service run first aid courses. The British Red Cross has interactive first aid information online. Your health visitor or local children's centre may also run courses. 

If an accident happens to your child

It can be difficult to know when to call an ambulance and when to take your child to the Accident and Emergency department (A&E). Use the following as a guide: 

Call an ambulance if your child:

  • stops breathing
  • is struggling for breath (for example, you may notice sucking in under the ribcage)
  • is unconscious or seems unaware of what's going on
  • won’t wake up
  • has a fit for the first time, even if they seem to recover

Take your child to A&E if they:

  • have a fever and are persistently lethargic despite having paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • are having difficulty breathing (breathing fast, panting or are very wheezy)
  • have severe abdominal pain
  • have a cut that won't stop bleeding or is gaping open
  • have a leg or arm injury and can’t use the limb
  • have swallowed a poison or tablets

If you’re worried about your child’s injuries and not sure if they need medical help, call NHS 111. If you’re unsure whether you should move your child, make sure they’re warm, then call an ambulance.

Objects in a child's nose or ears

If your child has something lodged firmly in their nose or ear, leave it where it is. If you try to remove it, you may push it further in. Take your child to the nearest accident and emergency department or minor injury unit. If their nose is blocked, show your child how to breathe through their mouth.

If a child has a cut

If there’s a lot of bleeding, press firmly on the wound with a clean cloth, such as a tea towel or flannel. If you don’t have one, use your fingers. Press until the bleeding stops. This may take 10 minutes or more. Don’t tie anything around the injury so tightly that it stops the circulation.

If possible, raise the injured limb. This will help to stop the bleeding. Don’t do it if you think the limb might be broken. If you can find a clean dressing, cover the wound. If blood soaks through the pad or dressing, leave it there and put another pad or dressing over the top.

It’s very unusual for a wound to bleed so much that there's serious blood loss. An ambulance isn't usually needed, but if the cut keeps bleeding or there’s a gap between the edges of the wound, go to accident and emergency or a minor injury unit. If there is a possibility of a foreign body (e.g. a piece of glass) being in the cut, go to A&E. If your child’s immunisations aren’t up to date, ask your GP or the hospital whether they should have a tetanus jab.

Burns and scalds in children

Immediately put the burn or scald under running cold water to reduce the heat in the skin. Don't do this for longer than 10 minutes as babies and toddlers can get too cold. If there’s no running water, immerse the burn or scald in cold water or any other cool fluid, such as milk or another cold drink.

Use something clean and non-fluffy, like a cotton pillowcase, linen tea towel or clingfilm, to cover the burn or scald. This will reduce the danger of infection. If your child’s clothes are stuck to the skin, don’t try to take them off.

Don’t put butter, toothpaste, oil or ointment on a burn or scald as it will have to be cleaned off before the burn or scald can be treated. Depending on the severity of the burn or scald, see your GP or go to a minor injuries unit or accident and emergency department.

Blisters will burst naturally. The raw area underneath them needs a protective dressing. Ask your pharmacist or practice nurse for advice.

If a child has swallowed a poisonous substance

If you think your child has swallowed pills or medicines:

  • Unless you’re absolutely sure, spend a minute or two looking for the missing pills (have they rolled under a chair?).
  • If you still think your child has swallowed something, take them straight away to your GP or hospital, whichever is quickest.
  • Take the full set of tablets with you so that the doctors can check the labelling and calculate how much your child may have taken.
  • Keep a close watch on your child and be prepared to follow the resuscitation sequence.
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so that you can tell the doctor.
  • Don’t give your child salt and water, or do anything else to make them sick.

If you think your child has swallowed household or garden chemicals:

  • Calm your child down as much as you can (this will be easier if you stay calm yourself). Act quickly to get your child to hospital.
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so that you can tell the doctor.
  • If your child is in pain or there's any staining, soreness or blistering around their mouth, they have probably swallowed something corrosive. Give them milk or water to sip in order to ease the burning and get them to hospital quickly.

If a child is in shock

If your child looks pale and/or feels unwell after an accident, lie them down. Keep them covered up and warm, but not too hot. If your child feels faint, get them to keep their head down and, ideally, to lie down. The faint feeling will wear off in a minute or two.

Fits or convulsions in children

If your child has a fit, they may suddenly turn blue and become rigid, with staring eyes. Sometimes their eyes will roll and their limbs will twitch and jerk. Or they may suddenly go floppy. The following suggestions will help you deal with the fit:

  • Keep calm.
  • Lie your child on their side to make sure they don’t vomit or choke. Don’t put anything in their mouth. If you think they’re choking on food or an object, try to remove it.
  • Remove your child’s clothing and any coverings and make sure they’re cool but not chilly.
  • Most fits will stop within three minutes. When it’s over, reassure your child, make them comfortable and call a doctor.
  • If the fit hasn’t stopped within three minutes, call 999. If it stops but it was your child’s first fit, take them to the nearest accident and emergency department to be checked over.
  • Don’t panic. Fits need to last longer than 30 minutes for there to be any risk of brain damage.
  • Even if it's not the first time and your child recovers quickly, let your GP know that your child has had a fit.

Although fits may look alarming, they're common in children under the age of three. Although there are other reasons why children have a fit, a high temperature is the most common trigger. Find out more about Treating a high temperature in children.

Fever fits, also known as febrile convulsions, become increasingly less common after the age of three and are almost unknown after the age of five. Febrile convulsions aren't usually connected with epilepsy. Read more about febrile convulsions.

Electrocution in children

Always turn off the power before approaching your child. If this isn’t possible, push the child away from the source of the shock with a wooden or plastic object, such as a broom handle. Try gently stimulating your child by tapping their feet or stroking their neck and shouting ‘hello’ or ‘wake up’. If you get no response from your child, you must follow the resuscitation sequence.

Broken bones in children

If you think your child’s neck or spine may be injured, call an ambulance. Don’t move them. Unnecessary movement could cause paralysis. A bone in your child’s leg or arm may be broken if they have pain and swelling and the limb seems to be lying at a strange angle.

If you can’t easily move your child without causing pain, call an ambulance. If you have to move your child, be very gentle. Put one hand above the injury and the other below it to steady and support it (use blankets or clothing if necessary). Comfort your child and take them to hospital.

If you think your child is in pain, give them painkillers even if you’re going to A&E. Follow the dosage instructions on the label.

Page last reviewed: 01/10/2013

Next review due: 01/10/2015

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The 1 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

ffishalia said on 30 September 2013

There isn't really anything about head injury here.

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