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Home Treatment for Second-Degree Burns

Topic Overview

For many second-degree burns, home treatment is all that is needed for healing and to prevent other problems.

Rinse the burn

  • Rinse burned skin with cool water until the pain stops. Rinsing will usually stop the pain in 15 to 30 minutes. The cool water lowers the skin temperature and stops the burn from becoming more serious. You may:
    • Place arms, hands, fingers, legs, feet, or toes in a basin of cool water.
    • Apply cool compresses to burns on the face or body.
  • Do not use ice or ice water, which can cause tissue damage.
  • Take off any jewelry, rings, or clothing that could be in the way or that would become too tight if the skin swells.

Clean the burn

  • Wash your hands before cleaning a burn. Do not touch the burn with your hands or anything dirty, because open blisters can easily be infected.
  • Do not break the blisters.
  • Clean the burn area with mild soap and water. Some of the burned skin might come off with washing. Pat the area dry with a clean cloth or gauze.
  • Put on an antibiotic ointment. Ointments such as Bacitracin or Polysporin can be used each time you clean the burn. Do not put sprays or butter on burns, because this traps the heat inside the burn.

Bandaging the burn

  • If the burned skin or blisters have not broken open, a bandage may not be needed. If the burned skin or unbroken blisters are likely to become dirty or be irritated by clothing, apply a bandage.
  • If the burned skin or blisters have broken open, a bandage is needed. To further help prevent infection, apply a clean bandage whenever your bandage gets wet or soiled. If a bandage is stuck to a burn, soak it in warm water to make the bandage easier to remove. If available, use a nonstick dressing. There are many bandage products available. Be sure to read the product label for correct use.
  • Wrap the burn loosely to avoid putting pressure on the burned skin.
  • Do not tape a bandage so that it circles a hand, arm, or leg. This can cause swelling.

There are many nonprescription burn dressings available. Be sure to follow the instructions included in the package.

If the burn is on a leg or an arm, keep the limb raised as much as possible for the first 24 to 48 hours to decrease swelling. Move a burned leg or arm normally to keep the burned skin from healing too tightly, which can limit movement.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

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