Second-degree burns: Blister burns- Causes & Effects

blister burns
Fire Safety

Second-degree burns are also known as partial thickness burns and one of the key characteristics of such burns is that they lead to the formation of blisters. Human skin has three distinct layers, namely, the epidermis, the topmost layer that acts as a waterproof barrier; the dermis, the second layer that comprises hair follicles, sweat glands and connective tissues; and the hypodermis, the third layer that comprises of fat and connective tissues. In second-degree burns, the top layer epidermis and some parts of the second layer dermis get damaged. This leads to the formation of painful blisters.

It is important to note that blisters are an inbuilt protective mechanism that the body utilizes to minimize damage to the second and third layer of the skin. Blisters also act as a protective covering, allowing the wound to heal naturally. Incase of second-degree burns, the affected area becomes wet and shiny, as there is fluid discharge from the burn site. Moreover, the site of the burn wound becomes reddish in color, swollen and is painful. A second-degree burn wound may also have white or discolored patches.

Causes of second-degree burns: Blister burns

Second-degree burns that are characterized by blisters are often caused by contact with flames or hot objects. These are very common in households, for example, when a person is accidentally exposed to an open flame or if they happen to touch any hot object such as an iron, a hot pan, hot water, cigarette, fireworks, etc. Steam can also cause second-degree blister burns. In all such cases, the exposure or contact time with an open flame or hot object is very brief, something that limits the damage caused. Other things that can cause second-degree blister burns include:

  • Brief contact with open electrical wiring
  • Harsh chemicals such as acid, strong cleaning agents, etc.
  • Over exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun

blister burns



Effects of second-degree burns: Blister burns

Second-degree burns can be very painful. If the pain is unbearable, a painkiller may have to be administered immediately to provide relief to the patient. The area around the burn wound site will become reddish and there will be swelling as well. If there are open blisters, the skin underneath will become watery due to fluid discharge. Closed blisters may appear to be translucent and stiff and painful to touch. In some cases, blisters may appear almost immediately after exposure to or contact with a hot object, whereas in other cases, they may appear at a later time, ranging from a few minutes to a couple of hours after contact.

blister burns


Most second-degree burns that are characterized by blisters can be treated at home or at the hospital. If the size of blister burn wound is not more than 2-3 inches, it can be easily treated at home. For larger blister burn wounds, treatment at the hospital in an outpatient environment may be required. It’s always better to consult the doctor, since there are many symptoms that only a doctor may be able to identify.

What to do in case of blister burns

The first step in treating a blister burn wound is to wash the area with cold water. However, the water should not be icy cold, as this could lead to tissue damage. The rinsing with cold water will remove any foreign debris and it will also cool down the wound, thereby preventing any further damage to the second and third layer of the skin. A mild soap can be used to create foam and then gently applied to the burn wound and rinsed off with cold water. This will remove any unwanted stuff and any bacteria that may be present near the burn site. The wound then needs to be dried using a soft cotton towel by gently placing it over the wound. Rubbing action should be avoided, as it could damage the wound further.

Once the water on the wound has dried, a thin layer of antiseptic cream or ointment can be applied to the wound. Antiseptic creams specially formulated for second-degree blister burns can be used. After this, a bandage can be used to loosely cover the wound. The bandage should be non-adhesive and have some anti-bacterial properties. This would help reduce the risk of infection. If there are closed blisters, they should be left as is. There shouldn’t be any attempt to break or puncture them, as it can increase the risk of infection.

Most second-degree burns will cure within 2-3 weeks, provided that they do not get infected. Some blisters may leave a scar after healing, whereas others may be completely enveloped by a new layer of epidermis, leaving no visible marks.

As part of burn awareness, it is important to know that the body is preprogrammed to deal with such minor burn wounds. The only thing that needs to be done is to administer the right first aid for burns, use appropriate antiseptic creams and bandage, and take proper measures to prevent infection and further damage.

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