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How do I Treat Second-Degree Burns?

Treating second-degree burns involves prompt action to cool the burn, reduce pain, and prevent infection. Begin by running cool water over the area, then gently cover with a sterile, non-stick bandage. Avoid home remedies like butter or ice, which can cause further damage. For pain relief and healing, over-the-counter medication and proper wound care are key. Wondering about the next steps in recovery? Continue with us to learn more.
Rebecca Harkin
Rebecca Harkin

A second-degree burn on a large patch of skin, on the face, hands, feet, bottom, groin, or over a major joint should receive immediate emergency medical care. In all other cases, you can treat second-degree burns by carefully removing any material covering the wound and soaking the burned area in cold water. Unless directed by a doctor, do not place any type of lotion on the burn. During healing, the burned skin should be covered with a sterile bandage, which needs to be changed daily. Following treatment, you should watch for signs of shock and infection.

Burn injuries are graded based on increasing severity as first, second, or third-degree. Second-degree burns involve damage to the top layer of the skin, called the epidermis, and the center layer of the skin called the dermis. These types of burns are characterized by a red or pink hue, often accompanied by swelling, prone to blisters filled with clear fluid, and are fairly painful. Most second-degree burns will heal within two to three weeks.

Soaking a burn in cold water can help.
Soaking a burn in cold water can help.

Emergency medical care is needed for a second-degree burn larger than 3 inches (about 7.5 cm) or occurs on the face, hands, feet, bottom, groin, or near any major joint. Otherwise, you can begin to treat these burns at home by gently removing any clothing or jewelry which is on or near the burn. Place the burned area in cold water and soak it for 15 minutes, but do not place any ice in the water bath or directly on the burned skin because the afflicted area can easily develop frostbite or further damage. Unless directed by a doctor, ointments, creams, butter, or oil should not be used to treat second-degree burns because these products can trap heat inside the skin, causing additional damage or leading to infection of the wound. If the patient experiences signs of shock, such as dilated pupils, decrease in blood pressure, or rapid breathing, seek medical help immediately.

The first three degrees of burns.
The first three degrees of burns.

For long-term care, you should treat second-degree burns by covering them with a sterile bandage and you should change the bandage daily. To avoid infection, do not treat second-degree burns by breaking blisters. You should also watch for any signs of an infection of the blister or burned area, such as redness, swelling, an increase in pain, or oozing fluids. If an infection develops, see a doctor. Painful second-degree burns can be treated with over-the-counter pain relievers.

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Discussion Comments

anon1003013

If a burn is bigger than the size of your hand, or there is blistering or an open wound, you should always go to the hospital even though it may not seem like it. Burns have a high risk of infection as the skin (a protective layer) is now gone.

I am currently recovering from two second degree burns on my thighs from spilling boiling water on myself. Burns/healing skin need a clean moist environment to heal properly. I know it seems like "airing it out" is the logical thing to do - I thought the same -- however serious burns are not treated this way. If the skin gets dry and tight, the dead skin will not slough off as easily, and this will also increase chance of scarring. I have been applying Flamazine Antiseptic cream and covering with non-adhesive bandages for a week and a half an I can see some of the skin healing a little every day with this method.

SarahGen

@feruze-- Sometimes burns are not bandaged and sometimes they are. It depends on the severity of the burn and the type of bandage.

In hospitals, they use special burn bandages for treating 2nd and 3rd degree burns. One type is a hydrogel bandage that keeps moisture inside and helps the burn heal faster. Another kind has ionized silver to prevent infections. When the risk of infection is high and when the burn is serious, it's better to bandage it, with one of these bandages if possible.

So if your burn has blistered and has open flesh, you have to bandage it to keep it clean. Just make sure to use a dressing material that won't stick to the burn. Otherwise you will cause damage while changing the dressing.

bear78

I always thought that burns shouldn't be covered. Is it really okay to bandage a second degree burn?

ysmina

I had a second degree burn when I was working at a restaurant. I didn't realize how severe it was at first and the restaurant manager did not offer to take me to a hospital, so I ignored it for a few hours. The burn turned bright red and started to hurt very badly after that. I still didn't go to the hospital but I took care of it at home, I don't know what I was thinking.

I basically bandaged the burn for months until it healed, applying antibiotic cream in between to prevent an infection. It took almost two months for the burn to heal and now I have a huge scar. I regret not going to the hospital at that time (and not suing the restaurant manager). I always wonder if I could have avoided this scar if I received a proper second degree burn treatment.

fwmrachael

Many people do not know how burn injuries are classified in their state.

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    • Soaking a burn in cold water can help.
      By: Dmytro Smaglov
      Soaking a burn in cold water can help.
    • The first three degrees of burns.
      By: Alila
      The first three degrees of burns.
    • Burn skin should be wrapped in a bandage, although burns to the hands, feet, or face require immediate medical attention.
      By: Vivian Seefeld
      Burn skin should be wrapped in a bandage, although burns to the hands, feet, or face require immediate medical attention.
    • Second degree burns that are at risk of becoming infected should be looked at by a doctor.
      By: Magalice
      Second degree burns that are at risk of becoming infected should be looked at by a doctor.
    • Small second-degree burns can usually be treated at home.
      By: LoloStock
      Small second-degree burns can usually be treated at home.