Health Encyclopedia

Second-Degree Burns (Partial Thickness Burns)

What is a second-degree burn?

Second-degree burns (also known as partial thickness burns) involve the epidermis and part of the dermis layer of skin. The burn site appears red, blistered, and may be swollen and painful.

Anatomy of the skin
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What causes a second-degree burn?

In most cases, partial thickness second-degree burns are caused by the following:

  • Scald injuries

  • Flames

  • Skin that briefly comes in contact with a hot object

  • Sunburn

  • Chemicals

  • Electricity

What are the symptoms of a second-degree burn?

These are the most common signs and symptoms of a partial thickness second-degree burn:

  • Blisters

  • Deep redness

  • Burned area may appear wet and shiny

  • Skin that is painful to the touch

  • Burn may be white or discolored in an irregular pattern

Talk to your child's doctor if the diagnosis is unclear.

Treatment for partial thickness second-degree burns

Superficial second-degree burns usually heal in about 3 weeks, as long as the wound is kept clean and protected. Deep second-degree burns may take longer than 3 weeks to heal.

Your child’s healthcare provider will figure out the best treatment based on:

  • How old your child is

  • His or her overall health and medical history

  • How well your child can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies

  • Your opinion or preference

A second-degree burn that does not cover more than 10% of the skin's surface can usually be treated in an outpatient setting. Treatment depends on the severity of the burn and may include the following:

  • Antibiotic ointments

  • Dressing changes 1 to 2 times a day depending on the severity of the burn

  • Daily cleaning of the wound to remove dead skin or ointment

  • Possibly antibiotics

Wound cleaning and dressing changes may be painful. In these cases, ask your child's healthcare provider about giving your child a pain reliever. Also, do not burst any blisters that have formed.

Medical Reviewers:

  • Duldner, John E., MD, MS
  • Fetterman, Anne, RN, BSN