I don’t need to tell you that getting burned sucks big time. Even the smallest little burn hurts like a mofo, and I guess I’ve been lucky in that I have never experienced a burn of a severity beyond a somewhat superficial steam burn and some debilitating run-ins with the sun.
Sunburn is a good example of the fact that sometimes we don’t even know that we are burning ourselves. Burns can come from friction and electric shock and can also be caused by an especially acidic or caustic chemical that we have used improperly. Burns can easily leave permanent scars and can cause shock and sepsis—in the worst cases—both of which can kill you. Our skin is our first line of defense against infection and any interruption in that large organ, whether it be cut or burn, opens us up to all sorts of terrible things from infection to cancer.
Types of Burns
Anyone who has been burned once usually learns their lesson and tries to avoid it in the future. That’s what life is all about, right? Alternately, if you are not into experiencing everything for yourself, you can forgo the initial burn and move right on to the avoidance thing—I mean, if you’re so inclined. That’s not to make light of those who have had the misfortune of being severely burned. There’s no getting rid of a burn like that with home remedies. You’re talking skin grafts and serious hospital time there—I can’t help you with that. I am just assuming that, like everyone else, you get some minor burns from time to time and that you are probably looking for a way to make them less painful and heal faster. If so, read on!
Degrees of Burnination
The medical profession of the past has separated the labeling of burn severity into categories of degree which most people are familiar with. There is a more specific nomenclature which is used these days in an emergency room that you should know about if you are going to be dealing with burns. It is based upon the thickness or depth of the burn:
- First-degree burn (Superficial thickness burn). This is a burn that is confined to the outer layer of skin, called the epidermis. A non-blistering sunburn is an example of this type of burn. Very painful.
- Second-degree burn (Partial thickness: Superficial burn). This is a burn that has started to penetrate the epidermis into the dermal layer. Blistering is common. Also painful.
- Third-degree burn (Partial thickness: Deep burn). This burn has passed through the epidermis completely and deep into the dermal layer. The burned area will lack sensation due to nerve damage. Skin may appear white or charred. This is a very severe burn and will require immediate medical attention.
- Fourth-degree burn (Full thickness burn). This is a burn that has reached beneath the skin into the muscle and bone underneath. Needless to say, very horrible.
Getting Rid of Burns
Heat and radiation are the most common causes of burns. Whether by flame, surface contact, or scalding, excessive heat exposure kills skin, damages tissue and nerves underneath, and, in rare circumstances, goes far beyond that. The treatment for superficial burns, which come from heat, light radiation, friction, and steam, is going to be pretty basic and universal. If it is beyond superficial or caused by something like chemicals, the situation will require a different tactic.
Most chemical burns are caused by a strong acid or strong base. Before you start working with such a substance, read the Material Safety Data Sheet. Know what kind of safety equipment you need to use to prevent an injury. Also, know what first-aid steps you will need to take to counteract the effects of the chemical. Generally speaking, you are going to want to get the chemical off of you as quickly as possible with large amounts of water. If it is a dry chemical, brush off as much as you can before rinsing. After the burn appears to be nullified, wrap with a dry bandage and go to the doctor. OSHA requires the information you need to be in symbols on the labels. Read the labels to prevent damage!
Electrical burns may not appear to be serious, but because of the nature of electricity, there could be deep, unseen damage to not only your skin, but to the very system that keeps your heart beating. If you receive a major shock (and you are still alive), you should definitely visit the doctor.
The first step in burn treatment is to stop the source of the burn from doing any more damage. That means removing yourself from the area of the flame, oven, steam cooker, car muffler, sunshine, etc. Just run away! If you are on fire, instead of continuing to read this article, you should probably stop-drop-and-roll or go jump in a lake. If there is a fire in your house, and it is small and there are no oils involved (you should have a specialized extinguisher for oil fires), you can use any ABC extinguisher to make an attempt at putting out the fire. Aim at the base, and discharge using back-and-forth motions. If the fire is spreading and there is the threat of a structural fire or if other people’s lives are at risk, call your emergency service before attempting to mitigate the situation.
Secondly, immerse the affected skin under cold running water for at least ten minutes. So, you’re out of danger, the fire is out, or you’ve set the hot pan of cookies down on the counter. As soon as it is safe, remove all clothing and jewelry from the area, and get that burn under clean, cold running water. This will stop the burn process in its tracks, clear any burning agents from the area, and cool it down a bit, thus providing you with some relief. As tempting as it might be, it is not recommended that you use an ice cube or any kind of a greasy salve. The ice might make things too cold or damage sensitive tissue, and greasy salves—say for instance, butter—will only make the pain worse and promote infection.
Next, you are going to need to evaluate what kind of burn you have, so what does it look like?
Is it just a red, slightly inflamed area? Does it turn white when you press on it? Does it hurt a lot? If the answer is yes, you probably just have a minor burn that will heal itself in a few days with proper care.
Is it red but also forming fluid-filled blisters? Does it still hurt? If yes, then you will probably be fine after implementing the first-aid steps described in this article. If it is blistering and doesn’t hurt, or, if the blisters cover more than ten percent of your body, it is likely that your burn is beyond the care available to the average home-remedy enthusiast. There is potential for severe infection and permanent scarring in burns of this nature. Please, see a doctor.
Is the skin peeling? Does the skin appear white and shiny or even charred and hard? If so, you have a severe burn that requires immediate medical attention. It is probable that you will need skin grafts, as the existing skin has almost definitely been damaged beyond repair.
If your burn is minor enough to take care of at home, there are some steps you can take to be sure that everything comes out alright. Most minor burns don’t need a bandage of any kind and are best left alone. Try to keep the burned area protected from further injury, out of the sun, and away from heat. Remember, the blisters are there for a reason; don’t pop them. There are some sunburn lotions available, but try to avoid anything is too greasy; look for lotions that contain Aloe vera, which is a cactus-like plant that helps heal burns. Take a cool shower and a couple over-the-counter anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen or aspirin for pain relief. If the burn doesn’t seem to be healing after a week, consider making a trip to your doctor’s office.
No, I don’t want to feel the burn!
Maybe the best way to get rid of burns is to avoid them in the first place. I know this is one of those things that doesn’t need saying. But seriously, there are so many things people could do to live safer, more pain-free lives. When dealing with hot things from an oven, use a good, dry pot holder. I know I have had some close calls with old pot holders that have holes in them—just throw them away! Obviously, accidents happen in the kitchen or out in your shop (hole-ridden welding gloves?). However, in my opinion, there is no excuse for sunburn. We all know what happens when we go out in the sun without applying sunblock: We come in looking very lobster-like, cursing our lack of foresight, vowing to never do it again—at least that’s been my modus operandi of late.
Sunblock is amazing stuff. Available at any pharmacy or department store, the small fortune you have to pay to obtain a bottle is totally worth it. Look for a high SPF number, and remember that you need to reapply often (every couple of hours), especially if you are swimming or sweating profusely.
Natural Methods for Getting Rid of Burns
Cold Water. Running cold water on your burn can be the difference between a burn that heals in a couple of days and one that lingers for a week or more. Besides that, it feels good. Just make sure the water is clean and not too cold as to cause hypothermia. Staying hydrated is important too, so have a glass or two of water while you’re cooling down your burn.
Aloe Vera. I’ve got one of these plants growing in my house and you should too. Just cut off a leaf and apply the magic juice found within to any superficial burn (which has been first cooled under running water, of course). Aloe vera is renowned for its natural ability to sooth and moisturize a burned area of skin. For an extra soothing feeling, refrigerate your Aloe vera leaves before applying them to your burn.
Honey. Honey is a natural antibiotic that has been used on burns for hundreds of years. It will also keep a burned area moist, which can be beneficial. This is only for use on superficial burns, as the risk for infection with more severe burns necessitates a trip to the doctor for any reasonable human being.