If we find ourselves off the power grid, we will be cooking over open fires more frequently. The potential for significant burn injuries will rise exponentially, especially if the survival group includes small children, who are naturally curious and may get too close to our campfires.
A working knowledge of burns and their treatment should be a standard skill for those given the medical role in a prepare community, or the title “medic“. The other advice is to keep procedures as simple as possible, don’t plan on relying on digital thermometers or electronic blood pressure devices. Equipment that requires batteries and is electronic will eventually break down in a collapse scenario.
Treating Burns in a Collapse Situation
The severity of the burn injury depends on the percentage of the total body surface that is burned, and on the degree (or depth) of the burn injury. Although assessing the surface percentage is helpful to burn units in major hospitals, this practice will likely be of limited helpfulness in a collapse. Therefore, let’s concentrate on learning to identify burns by their degree, as accepted in the traditional medical community, and some common standard medical treatments. Then we will discuss natural remedies.
FIRST DEGREE BURNS: These burns will be very common, such as simple sunburn. The injury will appear red, warm and dry, and will be painful to the touch. Placing a cool moist cloth on the area will give some relief, as will common anti-inflammatory medicines such as Ibuprofen. Usually, the discomfort improves after 24 hours or so, as only the superficial skin layer, the epidermis, is affected.
SECOND-DEGREE BURNS: These burns are deeper, going partially through the skin into the dermal layer, and will be seen to be moist, painful and have blisters with reddened bases. The area will have a tendency to weep clear or whitish fluid. Smaller water-filled blisters should be left intact and simply covered. Moist skin dressings such as Spenco 2nd skin may give some relief, as will lancing some of the larger, more tense blisters. Antibiotic ointment may also be useful, although burns are usually not infected for the first 2 days or so. Remove rings and bracelets due to swelling that may occur.
THIRD-DEGREE BURNS: The worst type of burn injury, it involves the full thickness of skin and possibly deeper structures such as subcutaneous fat and muscle. It may appear charred, black, gray or white in color. The burn may appear indented, or look like a hole, if significant tissue has been lost. Third-degree burns will cause dehydration, so giving fluid is essential to keep the patient stable. Celox combat gauze, when wet, forms a reasonable dressing. Any burn this severe that is larger than, say, an inch or so in diameter, will require a skin graft to heal completely. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be available in a collapse situation. A person with third-degree burns over any significant percentage of the body could be in shock, and is in a life-threatening situation. Always maintain adequate fluids, nutritional intake and additional vitamins and minerals while the patient is healing.
Some alternative practitioners, or possibly burn unit medical personnel, may further break down third degree burns into more degree categories. This is not helpful for those just trying to learn basics of many different medical issues. Once the second layer of skin, the dermis, is burned away, a third degree burn is determined to have occurred and the serious nature is recognized. All third degree burns are severe and life-threatening.
It’s necessary to realize that our traditional medicine resources may not be available some day and a successful medic will ensure that everyone will have some knowledge regarding alternate burn treatments. Various plants will have properties that will allow you to improve burn healing, even if no modern medical supplies are available.
When a person gets burned, it’s of paramount importance to remove the heat source immediately. Remember, stop, drop and roll could save a life.
Initial Steps of Burn Treatment
The first step to treating burns is cooling off of the burn site. Run cool water over the burned area for about 10-15 minutes. Cool water is preferable to ice as it is less traumatic to the injury. If water is available in quantity, a bath would further simplify this process, especially if the torso is involved. Never soak a third degree burn in a bath of water.
In most cases of second and all third degree burns, swelling will occur. Remove all clothing and jewelry from the affected area and above the injury. If possible, raise the affected limb above the level of the heart to decrease the amount of swelling.
For moderate or severe burns around the head, neck and chest areas there is a risk of airway compression. However, if no ambulance is coming and no hospital exists, there is very little you will be able to do to prevent it. Even if the group medic placed an airway in time, unless the patient is able to take breaths on their own, how long could you squeeze an ambu bag? A collapse scenario would be devastating and all of us would have some hard realities to face.
The first remedy for first and second degree burns is ALOE VERA; most people recognize this treatment as something they heard before and studies have shown Aloe Vera helps new skin cells form and speeds healing. This would be an excellent option for first or second degree burns. If you have an aloe plant, cut off a leaf, open it up and either scoop out the gel or rub the open leaf directly on the burned area. Reapply 4-6 times daily, with or without a bandage covering. Simplicity and fast relief are the key benefits to using Aloe Vera on burns, especially in a collapse situation. There are many store bought aloe vera remedies that have 1% lidocaine included in the formulation, and this would be beneficial to address pain and itching issues during the healing process.
Most articles you can find on natural burn remedies commonly include any type of vinegar as a treatment for burns. Vinegar works as an astringent and antiseptic and helps to prevent infections. First degree burns would be an epidemic in some of the hotter areas of the world, The best way to use vinegar on first or second degree burns is to make a compress with 1/2 vinegar and 1/2 cool water or even full strength and cover the burn until the compress feels warm, then re-soak the compress and reapply. There is no limit to how many times you can apply the vinegar soaks. Another method is the vinegar bath treatment, which “draws” out heat, and provides the patient with a temporary relief of the burning sensation. Fill a bath with tepid water and add some vinegar, and let the water cool off while the patient is soaking. If the burn is on the central body area use a cotton t-shirt soaked in vinegar, wring it out , and have the patient wear the t-shirt. This method is especially useful as a treatment while sleeping.
Another “cooling off” treatment for first and second degree burns is Witch Hazel compresses. Use the extract of the bark, which decreases inflammation and soothes a 1st degree burn. Soak a compress in full strength Witch Hazel and apply to the burned area. Reapply as frequently as desired. Elder flower and comfrey leaf decoctions are also an excellent remedy for first or second degree burns.
For those unfamiliar with the term decoction, it is an extraction of the crushed herbs produced by boiling. Using lower water temperatures produces a tea instead. The Decoctions of these plants can also be used for compresses just like the Witch Hazel. However, they can also be freshly crushed and rehydrated and then applied directly to the burned area with a sterile gauze cover, this is called a poultice. Black tea leaves have tannic acid that helps draw heat from a first or second degree burn . There are three methods for the black tea treatment:
1. Put 2-3 tea bags in cool water for a few minutes and use the water with compresses or just apply the liquid to the burned area.
2. Make a concoction of 3 or 4 tea bags, 2 cups fresh mint leaves and 4 cups of boiling water. Then strain the liquid into a jar and allow to cool. To use, dab the mixture on burned skin with a cotton ball or washcloth.
3. If you need to be mobile, make a stay-in-place poultice out of 2 or 3 wet tea bags. Simply place cool wet tea bags directly on the burn and wrap them with a piece of gauze to hold them in place.
Both milk and yogurt have also been found to help cool and hydrate the skin after a first or second degree burn. Wrap whole-milk, full-fat yogurt, inside gauze or cheesecloth and use as a compress. Replace the compress as the yogurt warms on the skin. Whole milk compresses can be used the same way. Another method of application, for large first or second degree burn injuries, is a yogurt “spa treatment” . This involves spreading yogurt all over the burn, and then bathing with cool water after 15 minutes. Another natural remedy, especially helpful for itching, is the baking soda bath . Add 1/4 cup baking soda to a warm bath and soak for at least 15 minutes or longer if needed until the water cools off.
There are two essential oils that can be used full strength on 1st or 2nd degree burns, lavender and tea tree oils. They help with pain due to stinging and promote tissue healing. Tea tree oil should be mixed with a small amount of vegetable oil or water, or use lavender oil in full strength, and apply all over the burned area. A bandage over the oil may be helpful when used for 2nd degree burns.
You can also make a poultice of Marigold (calendula) petals pounded with olive or wheatgerm oil, which can then be spread over the burned area and covered by gauze or a sterile covering. Calendula is a common ingredient in skin medication and it has been proven to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial effects, which speed the healing of burns. Additionally, St.John’s wort and comfrey are known to speed the healing of burns. There are many pre-made burn salves with the above ingredients you may consider adding to your medical supplies now.
Any first aid skin treatment with silver as an ingredient will be handy to have for first or second degree burns. The number one treatment for all degree of burns used in hospitals is Silvadene!
An oatmeal bath may be used to reduce itching related to healing for first or second degree burns. Crumble 1-2 cups of raw oats and add them to a lukewarm bath as the tub is filling and soak 15-20 minutes. Then, air dry so that a thin coating of oatmeal remains on your skin. Do this as often as needed to reduce itching. Also, if available, use a ripe papaya natural remedy. Simply mash the the pulp and apply. Papaya contains an enzyme known to break down dead tissue and decrease inflammation. Skin treatments, which include pineapple enzyme, provide the same benefits as the papaya mash.
The next remedy is a time proven remedy, and according to Ancient Indian YUNANI healing art, has been used for many centuries to treat even severe burns, including third degree. Here are the steps to make cotton-ash paste:
1. Take a large piece of cotton WOOL OR ANY kind of PURE white cotton fabric, place it into a dutch oven and BURN it into ashes by setting it on a fire, and be careful not to burn yourself
2. Use the ASH of the burned cotton and mix with olive oil or any kind of cooking oil available
3. Mix this into a thick paste and spread the black paste on the burned skin
4. Cover it with ordinary plastic cling wrap and perhaps some gauze to hold it all in place.
5. Add new paste every day for a week or so, depending on the severity of the burn.
One of the best natural remedies, that is useful in treating all burns, is honey. Honey, in its raw unprocessed state, is the best to use, because of the antibacterial activity and hydrating properties. Honey has an acidic pH that is inhospitable to bacteria, and therefore, will help prevent or even treat infections in wounds. It also provides the best healing environment for new tissue growth, due to the viscous consistency. Honey can be used in first, second, and, if no other medical care is available, as the number one natural remedy for 3rd degree burns (along with a high protein diet, lots of water and a drink mixture of lemon juice, sugar and a pinch of salt in some water several times a day).
This is how to use the HONEY METHOD:
1. Immediately after the first 15 minute cooling-down treatment, apply a generous amount of honey in a thick layer all over the burned area and past the edges of the wound
2. Cover the honey with cling wrap plastic or waterproof dressings. Use tape to hold the dressing in place.
3. If the dressing begins to fill up with fluid oozing out of the wound, change the dressing. The worse the burn, the more frequently the dressing will need to be changed. Repeat for 7-10 days, after this change the covering from plastic wrap to a non-stick dressing, like Telfa or gauze covered with a thick layer of vaseline placed facing the burn side.
4. Do not remove or wash off any honey for the first 20 days (or earlier if healing is complete). Add more honey often and fill up any deeper areas as needed. Always have a thick layer of honey extending over the edges of the burn. You do not want any air getting to the burned skin until healing is completed.
5. Change the dressing at least three times a day regardless of the amount of oozing fluid.
A few more remedies that have been reported to be effective healing burns are:
Vitamin E oil
Preparation H cream
Treating burns without a medical system available will require intense care and close observation of the patient. High death rates can be expected in most third degree burns without a hospital burn unit to treat the patient. Severe fluid loss resulting in cardiac arrest, and infections, are the most common causes of death for these injuries. Large area second degree burns may also lead to moderate fluid loss and severe infections. Our skin is the armor that protects us from invading bacteria and any opening, however small, may lead to severe infections in the bloodstream. Second and third degree burns should always be treated, if available, by the best medical facility in your area. The above natural remedies are provided, especially for treating third degree burns, as a last option because there are no hospital facilities for the patient to be transported to. Until a collapse has occurred and you have no other choice but to treat the injuries yourself, please give the patient the best chance of survival, which is to get them to a hospital as soon as possible.
Smoke inhalation is another real danger when exposed to fire. Be sure to read our article about smoke inhalation as well.