Partial-thickness burn

A partial-thickness burn damages the deeper layer of the skin. It can be quite painful and at high risk for infection. If the burn covers more than 10% of the body, the individual might go into a state of shock due to the loss of fluids from the site of the burn.

Even though the burn affects a deeper layer of skin, it does not damage the bone or muscle. A partial-thickness burn that is more than 2-3 inches wide must be cared for by a doctor while smaller burns can be managed at home.

What are the possible causes?

A partial-thickness burn can be brought about by the following:

  • Overexposure to the sun
  • Direct contact with flames
  • Contact with hot objects such as a skillet, kettle or iron
  • Exposure to steam or hot liquids
  • Contact with electricity
  • Exposure to strong chemicals as well as kerosene or burning gasoline
    Partial-thickness burn

    In most cases, the affected skin is brightly red along with one or several blisters.

What are the characteristics?

In most cases, the affected skin is brightly red along with one or several blisters. These blisters typically turn white in appearance and might even break open and seep fluid which makes the skin appear wet.

The site might also look mottled with some sites redder than the others. Generally, the burn can be quite painful with some degree of swelling. As for large-sized burns, it can be accompanied by a headache or nausea.

Management of a partial-thickness burn

The objective of management for a partial-thickness burn is alleviating the pain and lowering the risk for infection.

Generally, a partial-thickness burn is managed with the following measures:

  • There is no need to protect the site of the burn or the blisters unless fabrics or something is rubbing on them. If there is a need to wrap the blisters, use a dry, slack bandage. Just ensure that the adhesive will not get in contact with the burn. In addition, avoid using clothes or footwear or engage in activities that can rub on or aggravate the blisters until they completely heal.
  • Do not apply butter, grease, petroleum jelly or other home remedies on the burn since they disrupt with normal healing and might increase the risk for infection.
  • Provide pain medications such as ibuprofen or aspirin to lessen the pain and puffiness as well as the pain.
  • The affected limb must be raised higher than the level of the heart during the initial 1-2 days to help reduce the swelling and pain.

For burns that are wider than 2-3 inches or on the feet, hands, face, buttocks, groin or big joint such as the shoulder or knee, a doctor must be seen.

More Information / Disclaimer

The information posted on this page on a partial-thickness burn is for learning purposes only. Learn to recognize the signs and how it is treated by taking a standard first aid course with Vancouver First Aid.



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