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Burn Treatment

What is a burn?

A burn is tissue damage inflicted by intense heat, electricity, radiation, or certain chemicals, all of which denature cell proteins and cause cell death in the affected areas.

Serious burns must always be seen by a physician, as an emergency, but minor burns and scalds can be safely treated at home.

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Burns are classified according to their severity (depth)...

First Degree Burns

In first-degree burns, only the epidermis is damaged. Symptoms include the localised redness, swelling, and pain. Generally, first-degree burns heal in two to three days without special attention. Sunburn is usually a first-degree burn.

Second-degree burns

Injure the epidermis and the upper region of the dermis. Symptoms mimic those of first-degree burns, but blisters also appear. Since sufficient numbers of epithelial cells are still present, skin regeneration occurs with little or no scarring within three to four weeks if care is taken to prevent infection. First- and second-degree burns are referred to as partial-thickness burns.

Third-degree burns

Involve the entire thickness of the skin; these burns are also called full-thickness burns. The burned area appears blanched (grey-white), cherry red, or blackened, and initially there is little or no oedema. Since the nerve endings are destroyed, the burned area is not painful. Although skin regeneration might eventually occur by the proliferation of epithelial cells at the edges of the burn, it is usually impossible to wait this long because of fluid loss and infection. Thus, skin grafting is usually necessary. Go to a hospital emergency room.

In general, burns are considered critical if any of the following conditions exist:

  1. Over 25% of the body has second-degree burns
  2. Over 10% of the body has third-degree burns, or
  3. There are third-degree burns of the face, hands or feet

Facial burns introduce the possibility of burned respiratory passageways, which can swell and cause suffocation. Burns at joints are also troublesome because scar tissue formation can severely limit joint mobility.

Treatment for severe burns...

The immediate threat to life resulting from severe burns is a catastrophic loss of body fluids containing proteins and electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium, Nitrogen). As fluid seeps from the burned surfaces, dehydration and electrolyte imbalance result. These, in turn, lead to renal shut down and circulatory shock (inadequate blood circulation due to reduced blood volume). To save the patient, the lost fluids must be replaced immediately.

In addition to fluid and electrolyte replacement, burn patients need thousands of extra food calories daily to replace lost proteins and allow tissue repair. No one can eat enough food to provide these calories, so burn patients are given supplementary nutrients through gastric tubes and intravenous (IV) lines.

After the initial crisis has passed, infection becomes the main threat and is the leading cause of death in burn victims. Burned skin is sterile for about 24 hours. Thereafter, bacteria, fungi, and other pathogens easily invade areas where the skin barrier is destroyed, and they multiply rapidly in the nutrient-rich environment of dead tissues and protein-containing fluid. Adding to this problem is the fact that the immune system becomes deficient one to two days after severe burn injury.

Treatment for minor burns...

Minor burns may be effectively treated at home. Immediate treatment measures include:

Cold applications, or immersing the area in cool (not freezing) water for at least ten minutes, or letting cool water run over it, until the pain has stopped. This reduces pain and swelling, and cleansing and covering the burn will minimise the possibility of infection.

Avoid applying anything to the burn until it is cooled and you can see the extent of the damage.

If clothing or bedding has burnt onto the skin, do not remove this. It will protect the skin from infection until it can be seen to by a doctor.

"Wet" burns should be dressed with a fabric, like gauze, which will "breathe". Change the dressing regularly. Moderate to severe burns, burns that become infected, or occur on the face should first receive medical attention before attempting home care.

Drink large amounts of purified water. Increase protein in diet by including fish, meat or Spirulina to promote tissue healing. Protein shakes are ideal as free form amino acids are easily absorbed and assimilated by the body. 5000 to 6000 calories per day is needed for healing, especially for 2nd and 3rd degree burn.

Da Huang (Rheum palmatum) is a herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to clear heat and resolve fire poison. It may be used both internally, and externally, for burns as it is indicated for "red lesions giving off heat". The herbs Liquorice and Chickweed are valuable additions to any topical preparation to calm an angry-looking burn.

A Multivitamin should be taken 1-2 times daily to accelerate healing. B vitamins are necessary to meet the body's increased metabolic demands. Vitamin A helps heals skin. Take 25,000 IU daily until burn is healed. If you are pregnant, or could be, 5,000 IU is the maximum you could safely take. Vitamin C with Bioflavonoids also heals tissue. Take 1,000 mg three times daily. A Vitamin C flush could also be done to accelerate healing. Vitamin E, 600-1600 IU, is needed for healing and to prevent scarring.

Zinc promotes regeneration of damaged tissue, and, thermal burns create a deficiency of Zinc in the body. Take 50 mg daily, in divided doses, with food, until burn is healed. Copper, used in conjunction with Zinc is helpful. Take 3 mg daily until burn is healed. Calcium, 1500 mg daily, is important in protein structuring. Loss of body fluids increases the need for Magnesium, 750 mg daily. Vitamin D (400 IU daily) is needed for Calcium uptake. Selenium is needed for tissue elasticity, and provides protection at the cellular level. Potassium, 99 mg daily, is needed to replace the Potassium that is lost from burns.

L-Arginine stimulates the growth hormone which accelerates wound healing. L-Methionine is a sulphur-containing amino acid that is vital for skin health. Mucopolysaccharides, such as glucosamine sulphate, are ground substances produced naturally by our bodies for day to day connective tissue repair. Any kind of injury or insult to the body, e.g. burns, will increase the need for these substances. Coenzyme Q10 (100 mg daily) helps circulation and healing of tissue. DMG enhances circulation and healing of tissue, 100mg daily would be a therapeutic dose. Germanium, 200 mg daily, also enhances circulation and healing of tissue.

Colloidal silver gel is both soothing and cooling on sunburn and on other minor burns, particularly if you leave it in the fridge. It has bacteriostatic properties so may help prevent infection.

Other useful things from the fridge are yoghurt and cucumber. Smothering cold yoghurt on a sunburn is very soothing and moisturising. Sliced cucumber is lovely on the face after too much sun. Raw potato can be placed on a burn to provide instant relief. Baking soda mixed with olive oil aids in healing and prevents scarring, but this should only be applied when the burn has completely cooled.

Do not apply ointments, butter or salves to fresh burns, as they will trap the heat of the burn in. Apply gels or creams, refrigerated for best effect. Ointments will aid healing, however, they may only be applied when the heat has gone out of the burn. If they are applied to burns that are still hot, heat will be trapped and could make the burn worse.

Apply Vitamin A and E gel to unbroken burned skin, three times daily, to promote healing and reduce scarring. PABA often soothes the pain of burns more than Vitamin E. It has been found to effectively prevent and treat sunburn.

Lavender is well known for its healing and soothing effect on burns. It is antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, and will speed the healing up a lot. German or Roman Chamomile as essential oils or floral water may be used as an antiseptic. Tea tree has antiseptic and antifungal properties which aid in the healing of burns and encourages the formation of scar tissue. People with sensitive skin should introduce this oil with caution. Eucalyptus eases the pain of burns and helps new tissue to form. A few drops of Niaouli added to cool boiled water also makes a healing antiseptic wash for cleaning burns.

Alginates, or seaweeds (calcium alginate), are used in wound dressing and may also benefit the treatment of burns. A substance taken from Brewer's Yeast called skin respiratory factor (SRF) has been applied to skin-graft sites and has brought about significantly faster healing times.

Calendula is a great herb for healing skin. It has been shown to increase granulation at the site of the wound, promoting metabolism of protein and collagen - in other words, helping grow healthy new cells. Topical preparations are widely accepted in Europe for treating inflammation of the skin and mucous membranes, slow-to-heal wounds, mild burns and sunburn. Apply tincture, after the alcohol has been evaporated off, liberally to burn 4-5 times daily. Hypercal cream contains Calendula and Hypericum for painful burns, and is also beneficial for blisters that have been punctured. Calendula is a member of the Aster family, so anyone allergic to Ragweed, for example, may also be allergic to Calendula.

Aloe Vera gel is also a great remedy for sunburn and other minor burns, and is especially soothing if kept in the fridge. It soothes skin and promotes wound healing. In animal studies, it prevented progressive skin damage that usually follows burns, frostbite, and electrical injuries. We have Aloe Vera in a spray form if the burn is too painful to touch. It is good on first-degree burns when applied immediately, and on second-, and third-degree burns after healing begins. Apply to burn 4-5 times daily. Keep some of the plant in the freezer for immediate use. Manuka honey UMF18+ is a good wound healer and has antibiotic properties. Nettle cream may help to soothe the burn also.

Burns from ingesting extremely hot food or drinks may be alleviated by Calendula tincture - ensure you evaporate the alcohol off first otherwise it may irritate already abraded tissue. If you have burnt your mouth and throat, avoid tea, coffee, alcohol and any strongly spiced or peppered food until the tissue has healed. Chamomile and Peppermint teas may soothe and aid healing.

Arnica &/or Rescue Remedy, taken on or under the tongue, will help with the shock that may follow a burn, and settles the nerves. Rescue Remedy Cream may also be applied to minor burns. Flower remedy Mulla Mulla (Ptilotus atripicfolius) helps the body recover from damage including the effects of fire, heat and radiation.

Homoeopathically, there are many remedies that will assist the body in its process of healing. Belladonna 30c is for any skin problem with redness, heat, and throbbing. Cantharis 30c is a great remedy after a day in the sun, when a reaction is expected. It can help to relieve pain when taken immediately after a burn has occurred. It may be used in all kinds of burns and scalds, the remedy being given every few hours or every ½ hour. Cuprum met. is for use on burns where sweating causes cramps. Causticum 30c is useful for chemical burns. Take a dose every ½ hour until pain subsides. Arnica is for any pain and swelling and will help with the mental, emotional shock. Ignatia is for the after effects of shock and trauma. Urtica urens is for minor burns, particularly if it continues to be painful. Rhus tox 6c is for itchy swollen, and red blisters. Hypericum is useful for burns affecting the ends of the fingers, or toes, when there are sharp, stabbing pains. Aconite should be taken for the shock.

Nutritional and Herbal support for Burns includes:

Echinacea and Goldenseal - Echinacea is a prime remedy to rid the body of bacterial infections anywhere in the body. Goldenseal is a very strong, bitter, antibiotic herb with powerful tonic qualities. This combination is great to prevent, or assist in the treatment, of infections in burns that have penetrated the skin.

Astraforte - Astraforte is a deep immune tonic used to rebuild the immune system, and, contains Astragalus, Reishi mushroom and Privet fruit. It is beneficial during times of stress and in repetitive infections. Helps build stamina and endurance. Would assist recovery after major burns.

Ester C - Assists tissue repair and wound healing. Metabolites in Ester C help the vitamin get into cells more efficiently, absorbed into the blood stream faster and is held in the body longer than ordinary Vitamin C, increasing its effectiveness. White blood cells have very high levels of Vitamin C, which they require for their metabolism. This influences their ability to perform as a critical component of the immune system. High levels of intracellular ascorbate aid the immune activity of white blood cells. Ester C ascorbate increases white blood cell ascorbate levels above those obtained with plain ascorbic acid.

Aloe Vera Gel - Aloe Vera has long been recognised for its help with burns and skin irritations. 

Scarless Healer - Based on Rosa's Scarless healer but double the strength - a must in the First Aid Kit. Uses include wounds (infected or clean), infected skin conditions, burned or scalded skin, abrasions, lacerations, nappy rash. Aqueous base with St John's Wort, Comfrey and Calendula (15% active ingredient).

Medical Honey Wound Gel - This product has an antibacterial power of UMF18+. UMF Manuka Honey has been shown in laboratory tests to kill the 7 most common bacteria found in wounds. This is a topical product to assist in the treatment of wounds, such as minor burns, cuts & scrapes.

Mebo Burn Repair - Is a 100% natural ointment which aids the natural healing of all burns, scalds and sunburn. This ointment is used in over 20,000 hospitals worldwide.

Some interesting points on Burns...

  • Put cold applications on the burn at once to reduce pain and swelling. Cover to minimise bacterial infection. Baking soda mixed with olive oil and applied to the area promotes healing and prevents scarring. A comfrey root poultice is helpful if the burn is slow to heal.
  • Do not put ointments, salves, or butter on burns. Do not break blisters. Cold clay poultices are helpful. Elevate burn injuries to prevent swelling. Watch for the signs of infection, odour, pus, or extreme redness. Protect from exposure to sun. To remove hot tar, wax or melted plastic from the skin, use ice water to harden it - this will make it easier to remove.
  • Tannic acid has been used in clinics for surface burns that have begun to heal. It is found in many herbs including Sumac leaves, Sweet Gum, White Oak bark, Beriberi leaves, and Blackberry leaves. These herbs can be used as a tea and as a wet compress.
  • Prescription cream Silvadene would be appropriate to apply to third-degree burns, although a rare reaction to sulfadiazine may occur. Discontinue use if this happens. Colloidal Silver Gel may have a comparable antibacterial effect. Antibiotics, debridement to remove dead tissues, and hydrotherapy to loosen dead skin and keep muscles flexible should be part of a medically supervised program.
  • Dr Frederick Klenner of Reidsville, North Carolina, recommends that 30 to 100 grams of Vitamin C be given intravenously to burn victims until healing has taken place. His studies have also shown that this treatment will supply the tissues with sufficient oxygen to make skin grafting unnecessary and can remove any smoke poisoning in fire victims.
  • An early double-blind study was sponsored by the British government during World War II. Subjects given Mustard gas 30c, Rhus tox 30c (burning skin symptoms), or Kali bichromium 30c experienced significant improvement in burns from mustard gas in comparison to those given placebo.


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The Naturopathic Team
Ideal Health

Disclaimer: The health information presented here has been written for the New Zealand health consumer. It is of a general nature and is only intended to provide a summary of the subjects covered and is intended to be used for educational and general information purposes only. It is not intended as medical advice or as a means to diagnose, treat, cure or prescribe for any particular condition or disease. You assume all responsibility for the treatment which may be undertaken as a result of the information on this site, or treatment recommended by any other party. While all care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information, no responsibility or liability is accepted, and no person should act in reliance on any statement contained in the information provided. All health ailments should be treated by a qualified health professional.

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