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First-aid guide for kids: How to treat scrapes, cuts, minor burns and more

Mother applying band aid from the first aid kit to her child

Summer fun for kids can often come with its share of injuries. Get prepared by brushing up on these first-aid health tips.

Summer is all about playing and having fun outdoors. And when you’re a kid, that could be just about anything: tag, hide-and-go-seek, the list goes on and on.

But a sunny day can cause its fair share of “ouches” and tears. Your child might get a minor scrape, cut, or bruise.

Luckily, you don’t always need a doctor to treat your child’s boo-boos. Armed with a first-aid kit, you can handle many minor mishaps at home and on the go.

Here are four common injuries that might happen to your child, and how you can treat them.

Of course, some severe injuries may require emergency care. If you have questions or concerns, you can always call your family doctor or a nurse hotline (if you have access to one).

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Scrapes

Scrapes can happen when your kid takes a tumble on a rough surface such as concrete or asphalt. Here’s how to care for a scrape, according to John M. Good, MD. He’s an Optum general pediatrician in Rio Rancho, New Mexico.

  1. Wash your own hands first. Then clean the scrape with soap and water and a clean washcloth. You don’t need to use detergents, alcohol or peroxide. Be sure to remove any debris (like pieces of dirt or rock) from the scrape.
  2. You can apply a triple antibiotic ointment, such as Neosporin®, to help prevent infection.
  3. For larger scrapes, put on a bandage that covers the whole scrape.
  4. Wash the scrape and change the bandage at least once a day, until it’s healed. It will look healed when new skin has formed on the scrape, and it’s no longer bleeding or oozing fluid.

Most scrapes typically don’t need medical attention. But call your child’s doctor if you can’t get the bleeding to stop, or if you can’t get all the dirt and debris out of the wound. They may recommend having a doctor look at the wound.

As the scrape heals, watch for signs of infection. Call your child’s doctor if you notice any of these signs:1

  • Fever
  • Pus (whitish-yellow fluid on the wound)
  • Red streaks around the scrape
  • Warmth on or around the scrape

You’ll also want to make sure your child is up to date on their tetanus shot or the latest booster. Tetanus is a serious disease that affects the nervous system. It’s rare, but kids can get it from cuts, scrapes and even burns (see below). The tetanus vaccine is part of the DTap vaccine that young kids get. Tetanus boosters are needed every 10 years.2

Cuts and puncture wounds

Kids can get cuts on pieces of broken glass, sharp edges and more. And cuts can be shallow or deep, smooth or jagged.

The tricky part with cuts is deciding whether they need stitches, Dr. Good says. “If the cut is small and the edges are coming together, chances are your child doesn’t need stitches,” he says. “In that case, you probably can treat the cut at home.”

Some cuts may need to be looked at by a doctor. Call your child’s doctor in any of the following cases. They may recommend that the wound be looked at by a doctor.3

  • The cut is more than a quarter inch long, or the edges are wide open.
  • If there is dirt or debris in the wound.
  • If the cut is on your child’s face, palm or finger (there’s a chance that a tendon could be cut).
  • If you’re unable to stop the bleeding.

Puncture wounds are caused by a pointy object piercing the skin. Maybe your kid falls on a pointy stick, for example. These types of wounds may seem small on the surface, but they can be deep. And deep wounds are more likely to get infected, say Dr. Good. You’ll need to rinse and clean a puncture wound well to prevent infection.

Punctures wounds may need to be a looked by a doctor. You’ll want to call your child’s doctor if:3

  • There is something stuck in wound.
  • It’s really deep.
  • It’s over a joint or on the bottom of your child’s foot.
  • It was caused by something rusty. (This increases the risk of tetanus.)

Any wounds caused by an animal or human bite should also be looked at by a doctor. Call your child’s doctor, or you may need to head to an urgent care center in this case.

You can treat minor cuts and puncture wounds the same way you care for scrapes:3

  1. Wash the wound with soap and water. Rinse puncture wounds really well.
  2. If it’s still bleeding, press on it with a clean cloth until the bleeding stops.
  3. Once the bleeding stops, apply antibacterial ointment and a clean bandage.
  4. Change the bandage at least once a day. As the wound heals, watch for signs of infection.

For more info on where to go for care, check out this episode of our podcast, Until It’s Fixed

Minor burns

Kids can get minor burns from touching hot surfaces, spills from hot liquids and more. Good news: You often can safely treat minor burns at home. A burn is considered minor if:4,5

  • It’s a first-degree burn. “First-degree” means the burn only affects the top layer of the skin. It can cause pain, redness and swelling. A sunburn is an example of a first-degree burn.
  • It’s a small, second-degree burn. “Second-degree” burns affect the top two layers of skin. They usually form a blister. “Small” means less than two to three inches.

Burns caused by an electrical current that is more than a minor jolt or from chemicals typically require medical evaluation. Call you child’s doctor in the case of electrical or chemical burns.

Here’s how to care for minor burns at home:6

  1. If your child is wearing any clothing on or near the burn, remove it.
  2. Run the burn under cool water until it doesn’t hurt as much. That could take 10 to 15 minutes. Don’t put ice on a burn. Extreme cold can cause more damage.
  3. Gently clean the burn with soap and water. Be careful not to pop any blisters. Open blisters can get infected.
  4. For intact blisters, you can apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment such as Neosporin* on the burn. You can also loosely cover it with a nonstick dressing.  Do not put butter or other home remedies on a burn.

Large second-degree burns (larger than 2-3 inches) warrant urgent medical care. You’ll also want to get urgent care for second-degree burns of any size in these places:4,5

  • Face
  • Genitals or butt
  • Hands or feet
  • Major joints, such as the knees or elbows

If the burn looks blackened or white and feels dry and leathery, that could be the sign of a third-degree burn. And strangely, your child might not feel the burn at all. That’s because those burns damage deeper layers of skin, including the nerves that feel pain. So, numbness is a sign of a third-degree burn.

“A third-degree burn is not painful, but it is very serious,” Dr. Good says. “It is important to get medical care.”

If you think your child has a third-degree burn, your best option is to seek emergency care. Depending on the size, you may need to call 911.4,5

Stings

Insect stings aren’t usually an emergency. But they can be if your child is allergic to them. Watch for signs of a severe allergic reaction, known as anaphylaxis. Those might include:7

  • Chest pain
  • Difficulty swallowing or breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Fainting or lightheadedness
  • Rash, hives (red bumps) or skin flushing (sudden reddening of the face, neck or chest)
  • Stomach pain or vomiting
  • Swelling in the face or mouth
  • Itching of the throat

These can be signs of anaphylactic shock. That’s a life-threatening allergic reaction. Call 911 right away. Your child should also be seen by a doctor if they have multiple stings or were stung inside the mouth.

Once you know your child is allergic to bee stings, talk to your doctor. They’ll prescribe emergency epinephrine (EpiPen®) or another emergency kit. You or your child will need to have it nearby at all times just in case. If your child has an emergency kit and is stung, it should be used while awaiting emergency care

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Mild reactions can be treated at home. Here’s how:

  1. Remove the stinger (if it’s still in there). “The longer the stinger is in, the more venom goes into your child,” Dr. Good says. Don’t use tweezers to remove the stinger. You may end up squeezing more venom into the skin. “You want to scrape the stinger out rather than squeeze it out,” says Dr. Good. To scrape it out, use a quick scraping motion with something firm, like the edge of a credit card, driver’s license or fingernail.
  2. Once the stinger is out, wash the site with soap and water.
  3. Apply a cold compress or ice pack for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Repeat three or four times a day until the swelling goes down and it doesn’t hurt as much.
  4. Help your child avoid scratching. To decrease swelling and itching, apply a steroid cream that contains hydrocortisone. Another home remedy? “Try making a paste with water and baking soda and putting that on the sting,” Dr. Good says. “It can help neutralize the venom from a bee sting.”

As you’re treating the sting, keep watching for signs of anaphylaxis. Sometimes the reaction can be delayed. And watch for signs of infection as the sting heals.

(Looking for more information about how to keep your child safe from injury this summer? Learn what to do if they have a head or brain injury.)

Assembling a first-aid kit

A well-stocked first-aid kit will prepare you to treat these problems and more at home. You can start with a premade first-aid kit and then add to it. Read our first-aid kit checklist for more guidance on what to stock up on. 

Always read package directions and be sure you understand all directions and precautions before taking any medication. Over the counter medications can have side effects, interact with other medications or affect certain medical conditions. Follow your doctor’s advice about medicine use. And ask your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions or concerns.

You can shop for all your first-aid needs at the Optum Store — all from the comfort of home. Start exploring. Even better? Most first-aid products are covered by your medical expense account (HSA or FSA). Look for the HSA/FSA badge in the Optum Store.

Sources

  1. National Library of Medicine. Scrape. Reviewed May 3, 2021. Accessed April 27, 2023.
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tetanus Vaccination. September 6, 2022. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  3. National Library of Medicine. Cuts and puncture wounds. Reviewed November 13, 2021. Accessed April
  4. National Library of Medicine. Burns. Reviewed May 31, 2022. Accessed April 27, 2023.
  5. American Academy of Pediatrics. First Aid for Burns: Parent FAQ. March 25, 2022. Accessed May 30, 2023.
  6. National Library of Medicine. Minor burns — aftercare. Reviewed August 15, 2022. Accessed April 27, 2023.
  7. National Library of Medicine. Insect bites and stings. Reviewed November 11, 2021. Accessed April 27, 2023.

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