First Aid Guide for Kids: How to Care for Cuts, Burns, Bites, and Other Accidents
Sometimes kids get hurt—it comes with the territory! Here’s how to handle everything from bumps and burns to nosebleeds and twisted ankles like a pro and help your child stay calm in the process.
From the moment your child takes his first steps, he's bound to have some tumbles. While you can't always prevent your natural-born daredevil from getting hurt, you can be prepared.
Start by printing a one-pager that lists any underlying conditions or allergies your child has and the medications and supplements she takes (including dosage and frequency). Then staple it to a copy of her immunization record. Keep one copy in your purse, another at home, and a photo of it on your phone. In an emergency, these details could influence the medical treatment your child receives.
And when it comes to easing the pain in the moment? There's plenty you can do to make him feel better. We asked top doctors to share the best methods for patching up wounds, stocking a first-aid kit, and calming little patients—so you can fix any boo-boo fast!
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When Your Child Bumps Her Head
Do wrap an ice pack or a bag of frozen vegetables in a thin towel and hold it against the area to reduce swelling. You can also offer acetaminophen for pain. As long as your child seems like his usual self, just watch him for changes in symptoms or behavior. “Rest is part of the treatment for a concussion, and most young children will need some after even a minor head injury,” says Ethan Wiener, M.D., director of the division of pediatric emergency medicine at NYU Langone Health, in New York City.
Don't give ibuprofen to a child with a head injury. The drug might increase bleeding, which can be dangerous when there’s the potential risk (even if it’s a super-slight one) of a brain injury.
Get help if you’re concerned about your child’s behavior—take him to the doctor or the emergency room to have him examined. “You know your child best,” Dr. Wiener says. “Always get him checked if you are worried.” And call 911 if your child is unconscious for any length of time. The same rule applies if he experiences persistent nausea or vomiting, double or blurred vision, numbness or tingling in an extremity, or confusion or dizziness. Once you get to the hospital, a doctor will make sure that there’s no swelling or bleeding in the brain and evaluate your child for a possible concussion, says Michael Carius, M.D., an emergency physician in Bridgeport, Connecticut, and former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
What to Do for a Nosebleed
Do have your kid tilt her head forward slightly, and then use a towel or a wad of tissue to pinch her nose tightly just below the nasal bone. Squirting just a little Afrin Original Nasal Spray into each nostril could help too. Hold this position for ten to 15 minutes to try to stop the bleeding. Be patient! “You need to do this for longer than you think, so set a phone timer,” suggests Christopher Hogrefe, M.D., clinical associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, in Iowa City. An hour or so after the nosebleed stops and a clot forms, you can dab Vaseline on the inside of the nostril to keep it moist.
Don't allow your child to lean back. If she does, blood could go down her throat and into her stomach, which can make her throw up. Discourage her from blowing her nose for several hours, as even a short, gentle blow can trigger the bleeding again. Don’t stuff tissue or cotton up her nostril either!
Get help if the bleeding doesn’t stop within 30 minutes or if your kid’s nose looks out of place and you suspect that it’s broken; head to the E.R.
How to Care for a Burn
Do hold the area under a cool tap for ten to 15 minutes to cool the skin, ease pain, and halt inflammation, says Seth Podolsky, M.D., chief medical officer for ambulatory and integration at Banner Health, in Phoenix, Arizona. (For the next 24 to 48 hours, you can repeat this process as much as needed, or substitute ice wrapped in a towel.) Next, apply an antibiotic ointment such as bacitracin to soothe the burn and help skin cells regenerate, Dr. Carius says. If you think your child is still in pain, you can also give him acetaminophen or ibuprofen. But if a blister forms, let it be: That bubble is a barrier that helps prevent infection. Once the blister pops on its own, apply an antibiotic ointment and a clean bandage.
Don't use vitamin E or butter—both of these can be irritating. And never place ice directly on a burn; doing so can cause tissue damage.
Get help if your child’s skin looks very angry, splotchy, wet, or waxy, or if he can’t move it. He may have a severe burn that requires prompt medical attention. You should also go straight to the E.R. or your doctor’s office if he has any type of chemical burn (if, say, he got bleach or drain cleaner on his skin); if a burn is the size of his palm or larger; if it’s on his face, ears, hands, genitals, or feet; or if it extends around his wrist or the circumference of another extremity.
How to Treat a Bad Cut
Do flush the wound with tap water and soap, dab on an antibiotic ointment, and put on a bandage. If you see blood through the bandage, then apply direct pressure for 15 minutes and elevate the injured area above the heart to stop the bleeding, Dr. Hogrefe says.
Don't clean a bad cut with alcohol, hydrogen peroxide, or Betadine (an antiseptic). Alcohol stings like mad (which makes for an unhappy kiddo), and hydrogen peroxide and Betadine can damage skin, preventing healing.
Get help if a wound is large, gaping, or gushing blood. Your child might need stitches, so head to your doctor’s office (provided your kid can be seen right away). Go to the E.R. if you see deep tissues, ligaments, or bone; if you can’t stop the bleeding within 15 minutes; or if you think there might be a foreign body embedded. Don’t wait too long: “If the cut is open for more than 24 hours, we generally won’t glue or suture it, because then there’s a higher risk of infection,” Dr. Wiener says. Instead, most doctors will clean, dress, and bandage the wound; this is a safe route to healing, though it can cause slightly more scarring.
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How to Treat a Twisted Ankle
Do have your child sit down and elevate her injured ankle above the level of her heart with an ice pack draped over it, Dr. Carius says. Over the next 48 hours, continue to apply ice to the area for 15 minutes every hour. Ibuprofen can also help reduce pain and swelling.
Don't apply a heating pad or let her soak her foot in a warm tub for the first 48 hours. Heat can increase swelling and pain—not what you want!
Get help if your child can’t bear weight on the injured ankle or if it looks deformed. Go to the E.R. or an urgent-care center. These are signs that it may be broken or dislocated rather than just sprained (when the ligaments are severely stretched).
If Your Child Is Choking
Do keep talking. If your child can answer you with simple sounds, his airway is clear, says Mark Morocco, M.D., clinical professor of emergency medicine at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. If he can’t respond, get someone to call 911 or dial it yourself and put the phone on speaker. Then do the Heimlich maneuver: Wrap your arms around your child’s waist, make a fist, and place the thumb side of your fist against his upper abdomen (just below his rib cage). Now grasp your fist with your other hand and perform quick, upward thrusts until the item is expelled. (If your child is a baby or a toddler, pick him up, turn him facedown, and then use the heel of your hand to deliver firm back blows between his shoulder blades.)
Don't respond aggressively. “If your child is coughing but can talk, let him cough up the item,” Dr. Carius says. Resist the urge to put your fingers in his mouth or down his throat.
Get help if his breathing seems strange or he can’t speak normally after the episode—you should take him to the E.R. Always call 911 if your child becomes unresponsive.
This article originally appeared in Parents Latina's June/July 2020 issue as “First Aid Refresh.”