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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

- DO NOT give aspirin to children under 12 years of age

- Make sure your tetanus vaccine is up to date

- Change the dressing daily

- Wash your hands with soap and water

- Gently wash the burn

- Apply an antibiotic ointment (if not allergic)

- If the burn area is small, a dressing may not be needed during the day

Second-degree burns generally heal in two or three weeks without further treatment.

Sometimes the burn will take more than three weeks to heal because of its size. Also, as the burn heals it will itch.

DO NOT itch or scratch the burn. Itching and scratching could cause an infection.

Contact your doctor if you notice signs of an infection. Those signs may include:

- Drainage or pus from the burned skin

- Fever

- Increased pain

- Red streaks spreading from the burn

Swollen lymph nodes

Preventing Burns at Home

In addition to turning down the water heater to 120º, take further precautions to prevent burn injuries in the home.

Install smoke detectors in every room, turn pan handles inward when cooking, and practice fire safety with children.

Keep matches and lighters out of reach and have fire extinguishers in key places: the kitchen, the garage, the basement, and near every fireplace.(4)

Be safe and be well.

Originally written September 19, 2011
Updated August 15, 2016 by Misty Jacobs
Reviewed August 15, 2016 by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith

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 Comment12 Comments

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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