What is a Second-Degree Burn?

Steve R.

A second-degree burn is classified as a burn in which both the outer layer of the skin, known as the epidermis, and the layer underneath, called the dermis, are damaged. Typically a painful condition, this level of burn causes blistering and swelling and turns the affected area an intense red. Depending on the severity of the burn or how large an area of skin is affected, a burn may need immediate medical attention and can take weeks to heal. Skin grafting may be necessary and the burns can cause permanent disfigurement such as scarring.

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

Besides being red and blistery, the burn may also appear white. In addition, the affected area may have a wet or splotchy appearance due to the loss of fluid. Second-degree burns are likely to be extremely sore and sensitive to the touch.

Gauze can be applied to a second degree burn to prevent further infection.
Gauze can be applied to a second degree burn to prevent further infection.

A person may experience second-degree burns on his body for many reasons, with exposure to heat and flames from a fire being one of the most common. These burns can also be the result of touching an extremely hot surface, such as an iron or a light bulb. Another way is through scalding injuries, which can occur by coming in contact with hot water, grease, chemicals, or gasoline. If a person spends a great deal of time out in the sun without sunscreen, sunburn can develop into a second-degree burn.

Covering the affected area with gauze can often reduce pain and prevent infection.
Covering the affected area with gauze can often reduce pain and prevent infection.

It is possible for a person who experiences a second-degree burn to go into shock, particularly if the burn occurs over a large part of his body. The rapid loss of fluid lowers blood pressure, resulting in a lessened blood flow to the brain. This in turn can lead to fainting, nausea, and quickness of breath.

Large or severe second degree burns, or those on the hands, feet or face, require medical attention.
Large or severe second degree burns, or those on the hands, feet or face, require medical attention.

If a person suffers these burns on more than 10 percent of his body, he will need immediate medical attention. Treatment may vary depending on a person’s age, health, and the cause of burn, but aims to help the victim with pain and to avoid infection. In severe cases, a person may be given topical or systemic antibiotics and need to have bandages changed daily.

Small areas of skin affected by second-degree burns can typically be treated with a gauze bandage. Covering the affected area not only assists with pain, it guards against further blistering and infection. Generally, a person will need to take some type of over-the-counter pain reliever, such as aspirin, to relieve soreness.

In cases when the second degree burn covers only a small area, the skin will generally heal within a month. In more severe instances, a person will need skin grafting, which generally involves replacing the burnt skin with skin from an unburned portion of the body. Success of skin grafting depends on the severity of the burn and avoiding infection.

Small second-degree burns can usually be treated at home.
Small second-degree burns can usually be treated at home.

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Discussion Comments

anon954646

@Anon305797: Go to the hospital and get immediate help if it's a really big burn. Talk to a doctor.

anon305797

I think I might have a third degree. Some of the skin peeled off within minutes of burning it. What is the best way to treat it?

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