Partial-Thickness Burn: Types, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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partial thickness burnAny burn to the skin can be hazardous, but doctors rely on a classification system to help detect and treat the different types and degrees of burn wounds.

A second-degree burn is also known as a partial-thickness burn. It can be much more serious than a first-degree burn.

Thankfully, due to modern technology and research, many partial-thickness burn cases have a greater chance of complete recovery. We will look at the types of second-degree burn, how it is distinguished from other burns, and possible treatments to restore a person’s everyday life activities.

What Is a Partial-Thickness Burn?

As mentioned, medical officials identify burns in degrees. A second-degree burn is considered to be more dangerous than a first-degree burn because it has penetrated a deeper layer of skin.

As a result, with a partial-thickness burn, you may experience severe pain. There are three skin layers, including the outermost epidermis, the second layer dermis, and the deepest tissue known as the hypodermis.

This form of burn affects the first two layers of skin; however, it does not damage the muscle or bone. Any such burn that measures more than two to three inches wide should be treated in a medical setting by a professional.

Furthermore, a burn covering over 10% of the body can trigger a state of shock for the person. Treatment may be last over a two to three-week span with little or more scarring.

Partial-thickness burn symptoms may include redness of the skin that changes to white upon touching the affected area, depending on skin coloring. The burn area may also appear wet or moist and produce stabbing and burning pain.

Blisters may develop, and can become easily infected. Therefore, a second-degree burn can become a third-degree, or full thickness, burn within a short matter of time. This is seen when the blisters turn to lesions and open wounds with blood. The affected skin will not turn from red to white upon touch.

Types of Partial-Thickness Burn

A partial-thickness burn can be split into two types of burns. One type is referred to as a superficial partial-thickness burn, or second-degree burn, which encompasses the first layer of skin along with a portion of the second skin layer.

This type does not affect the deep layers of the skin where the sweat glands are located. The skin appears red due to dilation of the capillaries as blood rushes to the affected area.

The second type is called a deep partial-thickness burn, or second-degree burn, which does affect the sweat glands, oil glands, and middle layer of the skin.

The characteristic blisters of the superficial partial-thickness burn are frequently absent, and there may be a loss of sensation as well as symptoms of edema.

The risk for infection with either of the two partial-thickness burns increases with time.

A partial-thickness burn is generally caused by incidents with electricity, sun overexposure, bodily contact with a hot surface or object, or chemicals.

How Do Physicians Estimate The Extent of Burn Damage?

 A physician has three basic methods to determine the extent of the burn.

1. Rule of Nines

The body is immediately divided into nine-percent sections or multiples of nine percent that equal 18%. The remaining one percent is tasked to represent the genitalia and perineum. This helps doctors quickly determine the extent of burn damage over the surface of the body.

2. Lund and Browder Chart

The next measurement of the burn is generally accepted as the more accurate method, and has the body figuratively separated into segments to divide into percentages based on the age of the patient. The lower extremities are separated by the thigh, leg, and foot instead of being grouped together as one.

3. Palmar Surface

The third and final burn examination is based on the size of the patient’s hand. It is based on the theory that the palm of the hand represents one percent of the whole body’s surface, and thus can help to plan out the treatment, especially if the burns are on various sections of the body.

4. Clinical Depth Assessment

Next, the depth of the burn will be determined. The severity of a burn was previously only described only as first degree, second degree, and third degree.

By further categorizing it to partial and full thickness, a burn can be properly assessed and treated. Each degree can be a superficial or deep burn. A superficial partial-thickness burn, for example, will see blisters, a prickling sensation, pinkness in color, and a good capillary refill.

A deep partial-thickness burn also presents with a prickling sensation, but presents a waxy film and a poor capillary refill.

Partial-Thickness Burn Treatment

Medical treatment for partial-thickness burns may involve the use of laser Doppler technology. Other medical treatments may include prescription drugs to alleviate pain and swelling, antibiotics to fend off infections, debridement treatment, anti-itch drugs, and an escharotomy.

There are also common emergency room natural remedies and tips for treating the milder forms of burns at home.

A partial-thickness burn is not covered unless there is a blister that may come into contact with clothing. In this instance, a sterile gauze bandage can be loosely wrapped.

Any form of irritant to the blister such as clothing or footwear should be avoided whenever possible. Pain relievers can be used for up to 10 days, and if pain persists, medical advice should be sought.

1. Blisters

If the blister is closed, it is recommended to remove tight-fitting clothing or jewelry near the wound before swelling sets in. Clean the burn with cool water rather than with cold water or ice as it could damage the wound. If the blister is open, use cool water only on small wounds.

2. Chemical Burns

With this type of burn, jewelry and clothing will be removed before treatment begins. The burn will be cleansed and a sterile gauze bandage will cover the burn.

A liquid chemical burn will have constant cool water poured on it while being treated for a period of 15 minutes. You should contact emergency services for further instruction, as liquid chemicals have their own unique treatment instructions.

A burn from a dry chemical product first sees the area surrounding the burn to be brushed to remove excess dry chemicals. Small amounts of water are not to be used as it may cause a chemical reaction.

3. Electrical Burns

An electrical burn is a serious type of burn that requires immediate medical attention. It can damage deep tissues and may go unnoticed for hours. Wrap wounds in gauze.

A partial-thickness burn can be painful and unsightly if blisters appear open. Some burns can be treated with natural remedies at home, depending on the type and severity of the burn.

Cases of wounds larger than three inches on the face, feet, hands, groin, or buttocks usually require medical attention. Medications through intravenous injection, tetanus shots, and skin grafting are needed for serious burns. Burns are a serious concern and require immediate attention to prevent further complications such as infections.

 “Burn: Partial Thickness (Second-Degree),” Summit Medical Group;, last accessed June 8, 2017.
Johnson, M., et al., “Partial-Thickness Burns: Identification and Management,” Advances in Skin & Wound Care, Aug. 2003;, last accessed June 8, 2017.