It's that time of the year again, when family and friends come together to celebrate the holidays. Holidays are usually a time for great festivities, fun activities, and food. As we enjoy the holidays, let us keep in mind however that it is around holidays that the incidence of burns increases. The cause of the increase incidence of burns around the holidays are varied, but most occur during cooking especially during barbeques, cook outs, or large catered gatherings (self-catered or professionally catered). Many sunburns also occur when people are outside for long periods in the sun such as at picnics, on the beach, or participating in outdoor activities. While we should do our best to prevent burns, it is also important for us to know about the different types of burns, and which burns can be treated at home, and which require professional medical treatment. We also need to know what we can do at home to prevent burns from getting worse, and how we can promote healing using simple home remedies. Make sure however, that you check with your doctor for a professional assessment of your burn, to determine the right treatment.
Burns can be classified into four major groups: 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree, and 4th degree burns. The first two (1st and 2nd degree), can usually be sucessfully treated at home. The second two (3rd and 4th degree) requires IMMEDIATE medical care, and are LIFETHREATENING(1). Only a doctor can accurately diagnose the type of burn that you have, and you should see a doctor for a professional diagnosis of your burn. As a Physical Therapist, the treatment of burns and skin ulcerations is a part of my training, but it is also a speciality within the profession. The following tips will assist you to heal burns naturally by minimizing damage, preventing infection, and promoting healing.
When any burn occurs, the first thing to do is to plunge the body part IMMEDIATELY in cold water. This will stop the burn process and prevent the burn from getting worse. DO NOT USE ICE or ice water, as the ice will cause "freezer burn" and make the effect of the burn worse. After the area has cooled down, one can assess the area to see what kind of burn it is, and then determine the treatment. In a 1st degree burn, the skin is red and painful but still intact and not broken. This burn can be easily treated by applying Aloe Vera gel to the burn. The Aloe Vera plant is a well-known herbal remedy for burns, and the gel can be usually found in the Sun Care aisle of the grocery store or pharmacy, with the sun tan and sun block lotions. Aloe is especially cooling to the skin, and promotes healing of skin tissues(2).
The next type of burn which can occur is the 2nd degree burn. Second degree burns are characterized by red, painful skin that is DAMAGED. Typically, fluid-filled blisters develop and the whole area is swollen and painful. Do not pick at these blisters as you can cause an infection! These blisters result from the damage done to the top, supericial, but protective layer of the skin, called the epidermis. If these blisters are opened, the second layer of the skin, called the dermis, will be exposed to the environment and germs. An infected 2nd degree burn can EASILY become like to a 3rd degree burn! HOME TREATMENT: Apply Aloe Vera gel to burned skin, and wrap area lightly with guaze. Once blisters are open, protect the underlying skin by covering the area with guaze. To prevent infections and promote healing, check with your doctor or pharmacist for use of topical antibiotic creams. To promote healing, oral and/or topical zinc preparations can be used, but again check with your doctor(3). DO NOT USE PETROLEUM JELLY. Petroleum jelly may act as a moisture barrier but it PREVENTS THE SKIN FROM BREATHING, and may block natural healing. After the area has been healed, topical Cocoa Butter can be used to restore the natural look of the skin, if hyperpigmentation or blotchiness of the skin occur(4).
If after a burn the skin is charred, dry, and dark, then it is either a 3rd degree or 4th degree burn(5). Both 3rd degree and 4th degree burns are highly dangerous, and you can die from them(6)! Get to a hospital right away. In a 3rd degree burn, the first top two layers of the skin is COMPLETEY BURNT OFF, and is NOT PAINFUL AT FIRST, as the superficial nerves of the skin are burned up and destroyed. In a 4th degree burn, the first top THREE layers of skin are burnt, and can even reach down to the muscle and bone. Both types of burns are extremely dangerous and SHOULD NOT BE TREATED AT HOME.
(1). Gould, Barbara, Pathophysiology for the Health Related Professions. Philadephia: W.B. Saunder Company, 1997, p. 20.
(5) Gould, Barabara, Pathophysiology for Health Related Professions. Philadelphia: W. B. Saunder Company, 1997, p. 20.
Disclaimer: Information above is for educational purposes only and should not be construed as medical advice to treat or diagnose any particular disease or medical condition. One should always consult a physician or health professional before starting any treatment regimen.