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Burns: Symptom Management in Children

Pain management and burn care

Most children with burns have pain. The amount of pain depends on the severity and location of the burn. Severe pain can make your child's stay in the hospital very scary. Your child will be given pain medicine through an intravenous (IV) line or by mouth before wound care and as needed. Many parents worry that their child may become addicted to pain medicine. This is very rare because children are given such small amounts of pain medicine for short time periods. There are also pain medicines that are quite effective without being addictive. If you have more questions about pain medicine, ask your child's healthcare provider.

If your child is old enough, they can use a pain rating tool to help with controlling the pain. This tool tells the healthcare team how much pain your child is having at any given time. It will also help them figure out if your child needs pain medicine so that your child can be more comfortable. The nurse and child-life therapist can help your child control the pain. The nurse and child-life therapist can also help you find ways to comfort and distract your child to decrease their anxiety.

Itching and burn care

Most children who have experienced a burn injury often have itching at some point during the healing process. Itching may happen in the area of the burn, a skin graft, or the area the graft was taken from. Sometimes it starts right away, but it may also happen several weeks or months into the healing process. Itching is more likely to happen in younger children, and those with dry skin or thicker scars. Itching can range from a minor irritation to severe discomfort that can interfere with daily activities. While there is no cure for itching, it decreases over time. In the meantime, there are things that you can do for your child to lessen their discomfort:

  • Skin creams help keep the area moist. But stay away from skin creams or lotions that contain alcohol, lanolin, or perfumes which can make the itching worse.

  • Topical corticosteroids (such as hydrocortisone) may be recommended by your child's healthcare provider.

  • Cool or cold compresses may help provide relief. If you use frozen or chilled material for the cold compress, be sure to wrap it in a towel or other cloth covering. Never put it directly onto the skin.

  • There are other medicines that your child's healthcare provider may prescribe. These include antihistamines or oral steroids to help with itching.

Treatment will depend on your child’s symptoms, age, and general health. It will also depend on how severe the condition is. Don't use home remedies. Some of these can damage your child's skin. If you don't know what treatment to use or how to apply compresses, always ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist.