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The Do’s and Don’ts of Treating Second-Degree Burns

By HERWriter
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Do’s and Don’ts of Treating Second-Degree Burns georgerudy/Fotolia

Burns are the fifth cause of accidental deaths in children and adults, killing nearly 3,500 adults and children each year. Among children 4 years of age and under who are hospitalized for burns, scalding is the cause 65 percent of the time.(1)

Seventy-five percent of scalding burns are preventable.(1)

If you have children in the house, stop reading right now and turn down your water heater to 120º.(2)

Second-Degree Burns

A second-degree burn is more serious than a first-degree burn and usually forms a blister. A second-degree burn occurs when the epidermis and dermis layer of skin are burned.

It is recommended that if a second-degree burn is over more than 10 percent of your body, you should seek medical treatment immediately.

According to various medical sources, symptoms of second-degree burns include:

- Blisters: they sometimes break open and the area looks wet with a bright pink to cherry red color

- Swollen skin

- Red or splotchy skin color

- Severe pain

- Deep redness

- Burned area which may appear wet and shiny

- Skin which is painful to the touch

- Burned area which may be white or discolored in an irregular pattern

Treatments for Second-Degree Burns(4)

If a burn is caused by electricity or chemicals, call 911 immediately. For any type of burn in a child, contact your doctor’s office for guidance as to how to proceed.

For other burn injuries, seek immediate medical attention for a second-degree burn that is more than 2 or 3 inches wide, or covering the hands, feet, face, groin or joints of the body.

The American Academy of Family Physicians recommends the following tips on how to treat a second degree burn:

- Soak the burn in cool water for 15 to 30 minutes

- For small burns, place a damp, cool, clean cloth on the burn for a few minutes every day

- Put on an antibiotic cream or other creams or ointments prescribed by your doctor

- Cover the burn with a dry non-stick dressing held in place with gauze or tape

- For pain and swelling, take an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen or acetaminophen

1) Burns in Children. StanfordChildrens.org. Retrieved August 11, 2016.

2) Preventing Burn Injuries. StanfordChildrens.org. Retrieved August 11, 2016.

3) Second-Degree Burns (Partial Thickness Burns). Retrieved August 11, 2016. StanfordChildrens.org.

4) Burns. MedlinePlus.gov. Retrieved August 11, 2016.

5) Burns . KidsHealth - the Web's most visited site about children's health. Retrieved August 15, 2016.

6) Burns | Dr. Sears Official Website | Parenting Advice, Parenting Books & more. Dr. Sears Official Website | Parenting Advice, Parenting Books & more. Retrieved August 15, 2016.  

7) First Aid: Burns -- familydoctor.org. Health information for the whole family -- familydoctor.org. Retrieved August 15, 2016.

8) Burns. University of Maryland Medical Center | Home. Retrieved August 15, 2016. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/condition/burns

9) Natural Treatment of Burns - Dr. Weil. DrWeil.com - Official Website of Andrew Weil, M.D.. Retrieved August 15, 2016.

10) MORGAN, ERIC D., MAJ, MC, USAAmbulatory Management of Burns. Am Fam Physician. 2000 Nov 1;62(9):2015-2026.

Add a Comment5 Comments


For those who found our original photo to be difficult to look at, we have changed to an image that we hope will be a more comfortable fit.

August 15, 2016 - 11:50am
EmpowHER Guest

I just want to share my experience with 2nd degree kitchen burns on my hands over the years. The largest burn (actual contact area with the hot item) about 1 1/2 inches by 1/2 inch, happened just 60 hours ago. Immediately after the burn the skin on my hand (on my outer palm below pinky) the contact area was white and very painful. I ran cold tap water over it for several minutes(winter time so water is pretty cold). I then broke open vitamin E capsules and squeezed the oil over the burn and much of the area surrounding it and kept it fully covered over the next 6 hours. For smaller burns I kept it on for a shorter periods. In 12 hours the pain was gone and the burn was only slightly red, no blister, skin fully intact. It took about 48 hours for a very small blister to form in the center of the burn area (1/4 inch x 1/2 inch). It is only slightly raised. Now at only 60 hours after, the contact area only looks discolored(a little darker but not red) with just the slightest blister at the center.
No where have I found Vitamin E as a first line of treatment but when I use it immediately, it really works for me.

February 6, 2016 - 9:47am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Thanks so much for the story. I recently (2 hours ago) got a small 2nd degree burn from touching a hot pan which I treated with cool water and paracetamol. I also have a bandage on it now. I have been looking for a healing time for a while now so thanks for the information.

August 1, 2016 - 7:28am
EmpowHER Guest

This is a great and informative article but I'd recommend changing the image associated with it. As someone who experienced a serious burn, the last thing I wanted to see was a lit match (and on your mobile site the image comes up multiple times while reading).

August 30, 2015 - 3:12pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

I had the same thought. I had a visceral reaction to the flame, and I wasn't even the one who was burned. It could really be upsetting to someone wiht a bad burn.

I would also like to see something on facial burns, which can't be wrapped, and are a greater concern for scarring. How , besides constant applocations of corisone cream, do you keep it moist? My husband had a fire flash up hid arm and into his face. Initially it didn;t look terribe (like a bad sunburn) but two days later it looks very concerning. It completely covers his face. Good sense says to go see a doctor, but he needs convincing ( he usually has very good sense - he just never gets sick or injured)

August 9, 2016 - 11:39pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.


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