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Second Degree Burn


What is a second degree burn?

A second degree burn is also called a partial thickness burn. Your skin contains 3 layers. A second degree burn occurs when the first layer and some of the second layer are burned. This type of burn usually heals within 2 to 3 weeks with some scarring.

What are the types of a second degree burn?

  • A superficial second degree burn includes the first layer and some of the second layer. There is no damage in the deeper layers or in the sweat glands or oil glands.
  • A deep second degree burn includes damage in the middle layer, and in the sweat glands and oil glands.

What causes a second degree burn?

Direct exposure to heat or flame is the most common cause of second degree burn. This includes contact with hot objects or flames such as an iron, a skillet, tar, cigarettes, or fireworks. The following may also cause a second degree burn:

  • Harsh chemicals, such as cleaning products, car battery acid, gasoline, or cement
  • Damaged electrical cords or electrical outlets
  • Hot water or steam
  • Exposure to harmful rays from the sun or from tanning beds

What are the signs and symptoms of a second degree burn?

  • Superficial second degree burn: The skin is red, moist, very painful to the touch, and has blisters. Areas of redness turn white when pressure is applied. The area returns to red quickly when the pressure is removed.
  • Deep second degree burn: The skin is mixed red or waxy white, wet or moist, and has no blisters. Some areas of redness may turn white when pressure is applied. The area may return to red slowly or not all when the pressure is removed.

How is a second degree burn diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask how you were burned. Tell him about your symptoms. He will examine your burn and determine how severe it is. Laser scanners may be used to check the blood flow in your skin.

How is a second degree burn treated?

  • Medicines may be used to decrease pain, prevent infection, or help your burn heal. They may be given as a pill or as an ointment applied to your skin.
  • Surgery may remove damaged tissue, replace or cover lost skin, or relieve pressure and improve blood flow. Surgery can help prevent infection, decrease inflammation, and improve healing. Surgery can also improve the appearance of your skin and reduce scarring.

How do I care for my second degree burn?

  • Wash your hands with soap and water and remove old bandages. You may need to soak the bandage in water before you remove it so it will not stick to your wound.
  • Gently clean the burned area daily with mild soap and water, and pat dry. Look for any swelling or redness around the burn. Do not break closed blisters, because this increases the risk for infection.
  • Apply cream or ointment to the burn with a cotton swab. Place a nonstick bandage over your burn.
  • Wrap a layer of gauze around the bandage to hold it in place. The wrap should be snug but not tight. It is too tight if you feel tingling or lose feeling in that area.
  • Apply gentle pressure for a few minutes if bleeding occurs.
  • Elevate your burned arm or leg above the level of your heart as often as you can. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Prop your burned arm or leg on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.

Why may I need physical therapy?

Your muscles and joints may not work well after a second degree burn. A physical therapist teaches you exercises to help improve movement and strength, and to decrease pain.

How can I prevent second degree burns?

  • Do not leave cups, mugs, or bowls containing hot liquids at the edge of a table. Keep pot handles turned away from the stove front.
  • Do not leave a lit cigarette. Discard it properly. Keep cigarette lighters and matches in a safe place where children cannot reach them.
  • Keep your water heater setting to low or medium.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a fast heartbeat or breathing.
  • You are not urinating.

When should I contact my healthcare provider?

  • You have a fever.
  • You have increased redness, numbness, or swelling in the burn area.
  • Your wound or bandage is leaking pus and has a bad smell.
  • Your pain does not get better, or gets worse, even after you take pain medicine.
  • You have a dry mouth or eyes.
  • You are overly thirsty or tired.
  • You have dark yellow urine or urinate less than usual.
  • You have a headache or feel dizzy.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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