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Q.

How do you take care of a blister from a steam burn?

 

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A.

Blistering means that your burn goes deeper than the top surface of your skin. This makes it a second degree (or "partial-thickness") burn.

A third-degree burn, on the other hand, does not blister. It injures all layers of the skin. This makes the layers of skin and tissue stick to each other, and prevents fluid pockets (blisters) from forming. Third degree burns also look leathery and dry, and can be white, brown, grey or red in color.

Follow these steps to treat your burn:

  1. Rinse and cool a small burn under a gentle stream of running water.

  2. Gently cover the burn with a clean towel or cloth that's soaked with cool water. Do this for a few minutes as the pain eases. (Don't apply ice! This can worsen the injury.)

  3. Cover the burn with a clean, dry dressing, such as a gauze pad. (You don't have to do this part if the burn is very small.)

  4. Use acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) if your burn remains uncomfortable. (If your blisters are small, you can also use an over-the-counter burn ointment to relieve pain.)

Don't break a blister. This can increase the risk of infection. Large blisters are occasionally drained by a doctor who can apply a bandage that will deter infection. If a second degree burn is large or involves seeping fluids, you may need antibiotics.

In general, small burns that happen while baking or ironing clothes can be treated at home. However, your doctor should examine your second degree burn if:

  • You are over 65.

  • It occurs in an infant.

  • The burn involved chemicals such as gasoline or solvents.

  • The burn is more than 2 inches in diameter.

  • You have not had a tetanus booster within the last 10 years.

You should also see your doctor if you burned your hands, face or genitals. These areas have more delicate skin and present a higher risk for infection.

Copyright 5/6/2011 Harvard University. All rights reserved. HHP/HMS content licensing handled by Belvoir Media Group.

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