Burns are one of the worst injuries you can have…especially during a crisis. They’re dangerous, scary, and extremely painful.
Getting burned during a crisis can easily put your life at risk, but only if you don’t know how to treat them.
If you think your odds of getting burned are too small, consider this. Burns aren’t just caused by fires. They’re also caused by electricity, chemicals, and the sun. Yes, even sunburns can be deadly if you’re exposed long enough.
The good news is you can learn to treat your own burns if you don’t have access to medical help. Even some severe burns can be brought down to non-life-threatening levels if you know how to treat them.
Here are some quick steps for what to do if you get burned in a crisis.
Step #1: Cool Down the Burnt Skin
Your first job after getting burned is to limit the damage.
Immediately remove any clothes from the burnt area and run cold water over it. This removes harmful substances, eases the pain, and cools down the skin. Always use water to wash a burn. Contrary to popular belief, using something like butter, oil or grease will actually trap the heat and increase the pain even more.
Even though you want the water to be cold, don’t apply ice directly. Ice is too cold and will restrict blood flow to the burnt area, which will slow down your body’s natural healing process.
Step #2: Apply Pain Relieving Gels
The next step is to get quick relief. Relieving the pain of the burn will lower your risk of going into shock and will keep you from panicking so you can think straight.
The best gel you can use is one that’s made to treat burns. Aloe vera is a good choice, though any burn gel or cream will work fine. You can also use honey if you don’t have any burn gel because it’s a natural disinfectant.
A word of caution: when applying the gel to the burn, don’t rub it in. Rubbing it will disturb the wound and increase the damage. Just squeeze it onto the burn and leave it.
Step #3: Determine the Damage and Treat the Burn
Now that you’ve limited the damage and relieved some of the pain, you should feel reasonably calm. This is the time to look at the burn and assess the damage. Keep in mind that while they can appear gruesome, most burns aren’t deadly.
Death from burns usually only occurs if:
- They threaten the respiratory system
- They cover 10% or more of your body (Quick Tip: the surface of your hand is roughly 1% of your body)
- The wound becomes infected
- The injured person is very young or very old
Burns are classified differently based on how severe they are. Here’s a quick overview of each burn type so you can determine which type you have.
1st Degree Burn
1st degree burns are minor burns that only affect the top layer of skin. The skin will turn red and there will be mild pain. A 1st degree burn won’t have any blisters.
Applying some aloe vera to the burn will relieve the pain and allow you to recover faster. You can also apply essential oils to the burn to help the skin heal. Lavender works well. You can expect to heal quickly, usually within in a few days.
2nd Degree Burn
The tell-tale sign of a 2nd degree burn is the formation of blisters on the burned area. The blisters may pop, which can lead to infection.
Once the blister pops, you first need to remove the dead skin from around the blister. Wash the wound with soap and water if available. Apply antibiotic gel to the burn and wrap it with gauze. The gauze should be changed daily or whenever it gets wet or dirty, whichever comes first.
If you’ve done everything correctly, the wound should heal in roughly three weeks, hopefully with minimal scarring.
3rd Degree Burn
A 3rd degree burn is when the burn goes deep enough through the skin that it creates an open injury. The damage goes deep through the tissues and can affect muscles, nerves, and fat. The skin around the wound will turn white.
Don’t be surprised if the burn doesn’t hurt that much. A 3rd degree burn can destroy the nerve cells of the burnt area and cause the area to feel numb.
Treatment for 3rd degree burns is the same as the treatment for 2nd degree burns. The dead tissue will eventually turn black, and you’ll need to remove it to allow new skin to grow.
Recovery time for a 3rd degree burn is a few months at the very least, and there will definitely be a scar after it heals.
4th Degree Burn
There’s no way to sugarcoat this. A 4th degree burn is extremely serious.
There’s no real way to treat a 4th degree burn on your own. Without access to proper medical help, the victim of a 4th degree burn probably won’t survive.
The best-case scenario for a 4th degree burn is to treat the wound well enough to buy enough time to find proper medical help. Even with professional medical help, a 4th degree burn may require amputation (I’m not telling you to do this! I’m just telling you what to expect.)
Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with burns, but now you’re a little more prepared if an accident happens.
As usual, the best option is to prevent accidents from happening in the first place. Keep sunscreen in your bag to prevent sunburns, know the hazards associated with any chemicals you use, and don’t mess with broken electronics.
Here’s a quick video with helpful images that explains the different burn classifications and treatment methods.