Second-Degree Burn (Partial-Thickness Burn)

A burn occurs when skin is exposed to too much heat, sun, or harsh chemicals. A second-degree burn (partial-thickness burn) is deeper than a first-degree burn (superficial burn). It usually causes a blister to form. The blister may remain intact and gradually go away on its own. Or it may break open. The goal of treatment is to relieve pain and stop infection while the burn heals.

Home care

Use pain medicine as directed. If no pain medicine was prescribed, you may use over-the-counter medicine to control pain. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before using acetaminophen, naproxen, or ibuprofen. Also talk with your provider if you've had a stomach ulcer or digestive bleeding.

General care

  • On the first day, you may put a cool compress on the wound to ease pain. A cool compress is a small towel soaked in cool water.

  • If you were sent home with the blister intact, don't break the blister. The risk for infection is greater if the blister breaks. But the blister may break on its own. Don't worry if this happens. If a bandage was applied, change it once a day, unless told otherwise. If the bandage becomes wet or soiled, change it as soon as you can.

  • Sometimes an infection may occur even with proper treatment. Check the burn daily for the signs of infection listed below.

  • Eat more calories and protein until your wound is healed.

  • Wear a hat, sunscreen, and long sleeves while in the sun to protect the skin.

  • Don't pick or scratch at the wound. Keep your fingernails trimmed short. Use over-the-counter medicines like diphenhydramine for itching.

  • Don't wear tight-fitting clothes.

To change a bandage:

  • Wash your hands.

  • Take off the old bandage. If the bandage sticks, soak it off under clean running water.

  • Once the bandage is off, gently wash the burn area with mild soap and clean running water to remove any cream, ointment, ooze, or scab. You may do this in a sink, under a tub faucet, or in the shower. Rinse off the soap and gently pat dry with a clean towel.

  • Check for signs of infection listed below.

  • Put any prescribed antibiotic cream or ointment on the wound.

  • Cover the burn with nonstick gauze. Then wrap it with the bandage material.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these signs of infection:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Pain that gets worse

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pus comes from the burn

  • Red streaks in your skin coming from the burn

  • Wound doesn't appear to be healing

  • Nausea or vomiting 

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