A lack of noninvasive tools to quantify edema has limited our understanding of burn wound edema pathophysiology in a clinical setting. Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIR) is a new noninvasive tool able to measure water concentration/edema in tissue. The purpose of this study was to determine whether NIR could detect water concentration changes or edema formation in acute partial-thickness burn injuries. Adult burn patients within 72 hours postinjury, thermal etiology, partial-thickness burn depth, and <20% TBSA were included. Burn wounds were stratified into partial-thickness superficial or deep wounds based on histology and wound healing time. NIR devices were used to quantify edema in a burn and respective control sites. The sample population consisted of superficial (n = 12) and deep (n = 5) partial-thickness burn injuries. The patients did not differ with respect to age (40 +/- 15 years), TBSA (5 +/- 4%), and mean time for edema assessment (2 days). Water content increased 15% in burned tissue compared with the respective control regions. There were no differences in water content at the control sites. At 48 hours, deep partial-thickness injuries showed a 23% increase in water content compared with 18% superficial partial-thickness burns. NIR could detect differences in water content or edema formation in partial-thickness burns and unburned healthy regions. NIR holds promise as a noninvasive, portable clinical tool to quantify water content or edema in burn wounds.