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How to Identify a Second-Degree Burn and How to Treat It

By Kimberly Johnson ; Updated July 27, 2017

Skin burns are classified as either first-, second- and third-degree, depending on their severity. Of these classifications, first-degree is the least serious, while third-degree burns require immediate medical attention. Second-degree burns are tricky because some can be minor, and treated at home; others can be more severe and will require medical treatment. When you burn yourself, examine the burned area closely to determine the severity, and whether it's a burn that you can treat yourself.

Identify Second-Degree Burns

Look closely at the burn to see whether the skin has formed round blisters that are filled with clear or red-tinted fluid. Blisters, even if they are tiny, are indicative of a second-degree burn.

Compare the color of the burned area with the color of the surrounding skin. If the burn is very red with white splotches in it, then it's a second-degree one.

Compare the burned skin with that of the surrounding skin to see whether the burn is swollen, which is another symptom of a second-degree burn.

Treat Second-Degree Burns

Place the burned area under cool running water for 10 to 15 minutes, or until you no longer feel pain in the area. You can also fill a tub with cool water and immerse the burn in it, instead of holding your burn under a faucet.

Pat dry the burn gently with a towel until the area is completely dry.

Wrap sterile gauze around the area and secure it with medical tape. Do not apply regular adhesive bandages or other types of wound dressings to the area, since they may stick to the burn and cause pain when removed.

Swallow the recommended dosage of an over-the-counter pain reliever to ease the pain and swelling that accompanies a burn.


The Mayo Clinic advises that you seek medical attention if your second-degree burn is larger than 3 inches in diameter or if it's located on your hands, face, feet, buttocks, groin or on a major joint.


Never put ice on a burn, warns the Mayo Clinic, since it can cause your body to become too cold and can further damage the burned skin.

Furthermore, the organization says not to apply burn ointments or butter to a second-degree burn since a salve can cause infection. Also do not break open blisters, since that will make them more susceptible to infection.

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