A burn is damage to the skin caused by wet or dry heat, chemicals or electricity. Most burns happen at home, and are caused by scalding water, hot oil and grease, or hot foods. Are you suffering from a burn? Not sure how best to treat it? Is it serious? This comprehensive guide will ensure you treat your burns effectively.

Is it a third degree burn?

The mildest burns are known as first-degree burns. They may be red and tender with some swelling. You can treat these yourself provided they cover an area no larger than your hand. More serious injuries may result from fire, steam or chemicals. These moderate, second-degree burns are red and painful with blistering and swelling. Severe, third-degree burns don't hurt to begin with due to nerve damage; the skin is charred or black, white or red. There is no blistering but serious swelling. Severe burns require urgent hospital treatment.

 

First aid for burns and scalds

Act fast. Even first-degree burns require medical attention if they cover a large area (bigger than the size of your hand). Deeper burns and those caused by electricity need emergency medical attention.

As soon as you can, put the burnt skin under cold running water if possible (running water stays cold), for at least 20 minutes. If there's no water available, use any other cold, non-irritating liquid such as milk or iced tea.

Quickly and carefully remove jewellery or clothes that may constrict the area if swelling occurs.

Cover the burn loosely with a temporary dressing of plastic wrap or a plastic bag (make sure it's quite pliable and feels comfortable). Put a wet cloth on top to provide cooling after the initial 20 minutes of cold-water treatment.

Take great care not to break any blisters. They are nature's protective coating and prevent bacteria getting in. If a blister bursts, clean the area and apply some antiseptic cream before covering with a loose dressing.

Leave the burn alone for at least 24 hours so it can begin to heal on its own.

 

Natural treatments for burns

Once your burn has had 2 or 3 days to heal, you can try applying any of the following remedies.

Aloe vera reduces pain, moistens the skin and also helps to keep bacteria and air out of the burn. Apply a cream or gel 2 to 3 times a day.

The daisy-like flowers of camomile have long been used in burns remedies. Apply camomile cream or make a compress using a cotton cloth soaked in a strong infusion of camomile, or diluted and distilled witch hazel.

Another gentle healer is calendula ointment, made from the flowers of garden marigolds. Apply as often as needed.

St John's wort contains hypericin, a substance renowned for its ability to heal wounds and burns. It is the active constituent in hypericum ointment, which can be applied to a burn 3 times a day. The flowers are also dried and can be used to make a healing compress. Put 1 teaspoon of the dried herb into a cup of boiling water, steep for 5 minutes and strain. Soak a cloth in the cooled tea and apply to the burnt area twice a day.

Cooled tea made from marigold, chickweed or elderflowers also make an effective compress. Apply 3 or 4 times a day.

Researchers in India found that honey was more effective on burns than silver sulphadiazine – the effective ingredient in conventional burns treatment creams. Groundbreaking new research indicates that manuka honey, from the New Zealand manuka bush, is most effective. Look for a unique manuka factor (UMF) of at least 10. This proves the honey contains the active ingredients that will heal a burn faster.

When the blister ruptures naturally, leave the protective flap of skin intact and wash it thoroughly with an antiseptic skin wash made by mixing equal parts echinacea extract and water.

 

Homeopathic remedies

Apply Urtica or Hypercal, available as ointments from a qualified homeopath and selected pharmacies, to any burns that have not yet blistered.

For burns that blister, take Cantharis by mouth every hour.

 

Herbal supplements for burns and scalds

Immune system-boosting echinacea can help your skin to repair itself and fight off infection. Buy the liquid extract from health food shops and take 15 drops in water 3 times a day.

Gotu kola (or Indian pennywort) is a small tropical plant whose leaves have valuable wound-healing properties. They are used in capsules as well as external ointments. Choose a product containing up to 600mg dried plant equivalent and take as directed. A medical herbalist will be able to make up a gotu kola ointment for you; gently rub it into the affected area twice a day after the skin has healed over.

Natural health practitioners may recommend high doses of vitamin C after a bad burn – up to 1000mg a day, in divided doses. Vitamin E cream also speeds healing.

And one burn remedy that won’t work…

An old-fashioned remedy for a burn was to smear it with butter. This is probably as sensible as trying to put out a fire with petrol. Applying fat to a burn will simply hold in the heat and worsen the burn. Stick with lots of cold water instead.

 

Severe burns

If someone suffers a severe burn, including a chemical or an electrical burn, they need urgent medical attention. Get them to the nearest hospital A & E (casualty) department as soon as possible. 

  • A mild burn needs medical treatment if it covers a large area of skin or is very painful.
     
  • Seek medical advice for a burn on the face or hands, or if the burn covers an area larger than the hand of the person affected.
     
  • Also see a doctor if the victim has a fever, chills, vomiting or swollen glands, or if the site of the burn smells unpleasant or oozes pus.

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