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What to do if your child has an accident

Young children sometimes have injuries and accidents. Most are minor, but it's a good idea 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. St John Ambulance, British Red Cross and your local NHS Ambulance Service run first aid courses.

Your health visitor or local children's centre may also run courses.

If your child has an accident

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 them breathing fast, panting, becoming very wheezy, or see the muscles just under their ribcage sucking in when they breathe in)
  • is unconscious or seems unaware of what's going on
  • has a cut that will not stop bleeding or is gaping open
  • will not 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 still sluggish, despite having paracetamol or ibuprofen
  • have severe tummy (abdominal) pain
  • have a leg or arm injury and cannot use the limb
  • have swallowed a poison or tablets

If you're worried about your child and are 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 and 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. You may push it further in if you try to remove it.

Take your child to the nearest A&E department or minor injuries unit.

If their nose is blocked, show your child how to breathe through their mouth.

If your child has a button battery lodged in their nose or ear, they should be seen as a matter of urgency.

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. Use your fingers if you do not have a clean cloth.

If there's an object embedded in the wound, like a piece of glass, press around the edges of the object, rather than directly on it.

Press until the bleeding stops. This may take 10 minutes or more. Do not 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. Do not 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 is not usually needed, but if the cut keeps bleeding or there's a gap between the edges of the wound, go to A&E or a minor injuries unit.

If you think there may be something in the cut, such as a piece of glass, go to A&E.

If your child's immunisations are not up-to-date, ask your GP or the hospital whether they should have a tetanus jab.

Video: how do I deal with cuts and bleeding? (12 to 30 months)

This video explains how to deal with cuts and bleeding.

Media last reviewed: 10 October 2020
Media review due: 10 October 2023

Burns and scalds in children

Immediately put the burn or scald under cold running water to reduce the heat in the skin. Do not 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 use 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 risk of infection.

If your child's clothes are stuck to the skin, do not try to take them off.

Do not 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 A&E.

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

Video: how do I deal with burns and scalds? (9 to 30 months)

This video explains how to deal with burns and scalds.

Media last reviewed: 10 October 2020
Media review due: 10 October 2023

If a child has swallowed a poisonous substance

If you think your child has swallowed pills or medicines:

  • Unless you're absolutely sure what they are, spend a minute or two looking for the missing pills.
  • If you still think your child has swallowed something, take them straight away to your GP or A&E, whichever is quickest.
  • Take the full set of tablets with you so the doctors can check the labelling and calculate how much your child may have taken.
  • Keep a close eye 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 you can tell the doctor.
  • Do not give your child salt and water or do anything else to make them sick.
  • Try to keep your child calm and do not encourage them to walk around to keep awake.

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 A&E.
  • If possible, write down the name of whatever you think your child has swallowed so you can tell the doctor.
  • If your child is in pain or there's any staining, soreness or blistering around their mouth, they've probably swallowed something corrosive. Give them milk or water to sip to ease the burning and get them to hospital quickly.

If a child swallows a button battery

Button batteries are small round, silver batteries found in lots of electrical toys and devices.

If your child swallows a button battery or you think they may have swallowed one, take them to A&E straight away.

As well as being a choking hazard, button batteries can cause internal burns, internal bleeding, and sometimes death.

They can also cause burns if they're lodged in a child's nose or ear.

The Child Accident Prevention Trust website has more information and advice about button batteries

Find out how to stop a child from choking

If a child feels unwell or faint after an accident

If your child looks pale 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 or, ideally, lie down. The faint feeling should 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.
  • Do not try to hold them down.
  • Create a safe space around them.
  • Do not put anything in their mouth. If you think they're choking on food or an object, look in their mouth and try to remove it.
  • Lie your child on their side to make sure they do not choke.
  • Remove your child's clothing and any coverings, and make sure they're cool, but not chilly.
  • Most fits will stop within 3 minutes. When it's over, reassure your child, make them comfortable and call a doctor.
  • If the fit has not stopped within 5 minutes, call 999. If it stops but it was your child's first fit, take them to the nearest A&E department to be checked over.
  • 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 3.

There are other reasons why children have fits, but a high temperature is the most common trigger. 

Fever fits, also known as febrile seizures, become increasingly less common after the age of 3 and are almost unknown after the age of 5. They're not usually connected with epilepsy. 

Find out more about:

Electrocution in children

Always turn off the power before approaching your child.

If this is not possible, push the child away from the source of the electricity with a wooden or plastic object, such as a broom handle.

Try 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. Do not 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 cannot 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: 14 August 2018
Next review due: 14 August 2021