Treating Second-degree Burns

Written by April Reinhardt (last updated September 5, 2008)

Moderate and critical second-degree burns should always be treated by a doctor, since they involve deeper tissue damage than first-degree burns. Caused most often by flames, chemicals, hot liquids, overexposure to extreme cold, or severe sun burns, second-degree burns are extremely painful. Burns caused by steam or hot liquids are called scalds, and burns caused by heat are called thermal burns.

You can recognize a type of burn by the way it looks, the amount of tissue damaged, and what caused it. Some indicators of second-degree burns are:

  • Extremely red skin
  • Blistered skin that looks wet and weepy
  • Extreme pain
  • A high pulse rate that can send the victim into a state of shock

While you can treat minor second-degree burns at home, use good judgment in determining their severity. If you scald your hand with steam while cooking pasta, the burn involves a relatively small portion of skin. And although that scald is considered a second-degree burn, it is minor, and you can treat second-degree burns at home by following these steps:

  1. If the burn does not have open blisters, remove from the skin any jewelry or clothing.
  2. Hold the burned area under running, cold water for at least ten minutes to stop the burn process. Never use ice water or ice on a burn.
  3. Because there is a risk of infection, never burst blisters caused by burns. Do not run cold water over or remove clothing from open blisters.
  4. Apply a thin layer of antibiotic ointment, but never use heavy lotions or creams since doing so will only promote the heat and cause further burning.
  5. Since you want the burn to get air, bandage it loosely with sterile gauze, ensuring that you do not get any adhesive onto the burn site.
  6. To reduce swelling, raise the burned area if possible.
  7. Use acetaminophen or ibuprofen for pain, but never give aspirin to children.
  8. If the victim has trouble breathing, or starts to go into shock, call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

If liquid chemicals are the cause of the second-degree burn, flush the skin with cool running water for at least twenty minutes. With dry chemicals, use large amounts of water when flushing the chemicals from the skin since using small amounts of water can actually cause the chemicals to activate.

With second-degree burns, the goal of treatment is to stop the burn process, reduce pain, stop the victim from going into shock, and prevent infection. If you cannot attain those goals at home, then seek immediate medical treatment at an emergency room.

Author Bio

April Reinhardt

An admin­istrator for a mutual fund man­age­ment firm, April deals with the writ­ten word daily. She loves to write and plans to author a memoir in the near future. April attend­ed More­head State Uni­ver­sity to pursue a BA degree in Ele­men­tary Edu­ca­tion. ...


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