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The Do's and Don'ts of Burn Remedies

November 09, 2016
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When you burn your hand, what is the first thing you do? According to Eunice Singletary, a professor of emergency medicine at the University of Virginia, popular burn remedies are actually old wives’ tales. “If you choose the wrong do-it-yourself treatment, you can increase the risk of worsening the burn, upping chances of infection and scarring,” said Singletary. Well-known home remedies like applying an ice pack can surprisingly make the wound worse or lead to infection. So what are patients supposed to do? Here are the major do’s and don'ts of treating a burn: DO: Use Cool Water While applying ice can damage skin tissue, placing your burn in cool water can minimize swelling and reduce pain. Make sure to remove clothes or jewelry around the affected area, and place the burn in cool water for 15-20 minutes.  DON'T: Apply Antiseptic Agents “Agents such as hydrogen peroxide and white vinegar can cause severe pain when applied to burned skin,” said Gary Goldenberg, a professor of dermatology at the Icahn School of Medicine. Although antiseptics “clean” the wound, it also damages skin tissue. There are other ways to clean a wound without causing you pain. DO: Try Applying Honey Why honey? “[It] is anti-inflammatory and antibacterial, and contains fatty acids that help repair damage to skin,” said Melissa Piliang, a dermatologist from the Cleveland Clinic. Additionally, a study from the Journal of Cutaneous and Aesthetic Surgery discovered that burns prescribed to honey healed quicker than others treated with silver sulfadiazine cream. DON'T: Use Butter or Milk Where did this old wives’ tale start? Applying butter to burns can be traced back to 19th century Prussia. Surgeon General Friedrich Von Esmarch recommended it as a battlefield medicine. According to war handbooks, putting butter on a burn would “seal the burn off from the air” and prevent infections. However, the fat in butter actually slows the process of heat release and worsens the burn. For milk, the bacteria in it can multiply and cause skin infections. It’s probably best that this home remedy stay in the 19th century. DO: Keep an Eye on Blister Size Blisters are a strong indication of burn severity. If a blister smaller than your thumbnail forms, let it be. In this case, it acts as a natural bandage to keep out infections. If the blister is larger, consider going to an urgent-care or a hospital. It may be an indication of a deeper burn, and could need a skin graft. DON’T: Use Home Remedies if it’s More Than a First-Degree Burn Seek medical attention immediately if your wound is more severe than a first-degree burn. How can you tell the difference? A first-degree burn only affects the outer layer of your skin. They are typically red, but whiten when pressure is applied. A second-degree burn involves the second layer of skin. It will typically seep fluid or blister. A third and fourth degree burn goes deeper in the skin – to the point where you can see muscle or bone. If you believe you have a severe burn, honey and cold water may not be the best option anymore. Go see a doctor. When Should I Seek Medical Help? Sometimes home remedies aren’t enough. You should see a doctor if:
  • Blistering occurs immediately after
  • The burn is on your face, genitals, or near a joint
  • It looks infected
  • The burn is larger than three inches
  • The individual is under the age of five or older than 70
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