Cool running water speeds healing, reduces hospitalizations for children’s burns

QUEENSLAND, Australia — Anyone who has accidentally touched a hot skillet or cookie sheet knows how painful a burn can be. If your first instinct is to run to the sink and crank up the cool water, you are on the right track.

But what should you do if the burn victim is a child? New research from the University of Queensland in Australia confirms that cool running water bests all other first aid options, including aloe and burn ointments. It is also the best first aid for child burn victims to speed healing, reduce burn-related hospital admissions and even lessen the need for skin grafts.

“If a child is burned, the first course of treatment should be 20 minutes of cool running water,” says study co-author Bronwyn R. Griffin, PhD, honorary senior fellow at the university’s Child Health Research Centre, in a statement from the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Cool running water is most effective immediately after a burn occurs,” she affirms. “But evidence suggests it remains beneficial for up to three hours following an injury.”

Researchers looked at treatments used on 2,495 patients at a children’s hospital. The children, with a median age of two years old, were treated for mostly scalds and liquid or steam burns on or near their arms or legs, the types of burns that often happen in the home.

The study authors found that 20 minutes or more of cooling with running water reduced the odds of skin grafting by more than 40 percent. Any amount of time with cool running water lessened the odds of hospital admission by 35.8 percent and the odds of surgical treatments by 42.4 percent.

Further, when any amount of cool running water was applied, the injuries not requiring grafting healed faster. And faster healing means less risk of scarring.

Researchers say that when it comes to burns, cool running water is better than doing nothing, and also better than other tempting options we might be advised to try, such as aloe, gels, compresses, toothpaste, butter or egg whites.

And while some medical guidelines suggest as little as five minutes of cool running water therapy, study authors say the results of this study support a full 20 minutes as the optimal amount of time.  Bottom line, cool running water is always the best first aid therapy for burns.

“Whether you are a parent or paramedic, administering 20 minutes of cool running water to a child’s burn is highly recommended. This is the most effective way to lessen the severity of tissue damage from all thermal burns,” concludes Griffin.

Study results are published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.