Our bodies are designed for our atmospheric climate. If the temperatures go much higher or lower, we start to run into trouble. In this case, we’re looking at what happens when our bodies are exposed to heat causing burns.
Burns are one of the most frequently experienced traumatic medical problems in the world. In fact, you’ve probably had rather large burns dozens of times, assuming you’ve gone out in the sun without sunscreen. That’s right, sunburns are a legitimate burn, superficial in this case, but a burn none-the-less.
Superficial burns happen when our skin comes into contact with short bursts of heat. The most common way we get superficial burns if from the sun via sun burns, however hot water is also common. Treating superficial burns generally doesn’t require any advanced medical training; you can do it at home.
Superficial burns are recognized by a reddening and tenderness of the skin. Immediately after they initially occur, the affected area generally has a warm feeling to it. For this reason, do not apply any lotion or cream to the burned area. Instead, run it under room temperature water. Cold water is not ideal, as it can send you into shock. Once the warmness disappears, you can add some natural lotion to it. Lotions containing high amounts of aloe tend to help with the tenderness considerably.
The next stage of burns, formerly called ‘second degree’ burns, is semi-thickness burns. These burns are identified by blistering. They differ on a physiological level from superficial burns because the burn extends deep into the skin layers, but doesn’t get into the flesh. With these burns it’s extremely important that you don’t put any cream or lotion on them, as that can lock in the heat and make the heat continue to spread the burn.
To treat the burn, run it under room temperature water. Do not apply any cream or lotion to it, even after it’s cooled, as if you need to go to the doctor for treatment, the first thing they’ll need to do is scrub off any lotion or cream you’ve put on which is a very painful process and outweighs the limited benefit that any lotion or cream would provide.
Full-thickness burns are burns that extend past the skin layer, and our almost always coupled with charring of the tissue. They are often surrounded by semi-thickness burns. If you see burns that have charring, you need to go to the hospital immediately. Do not apply any lotion or cream to the area. If you have bottles of water, bring them with and slowly pour the water from them on the burn on your way to the hospital to help cool the area.
I will emphasize, do not put any kind of cream or lotion on these burns. Full-thickness burns need to be seen by a doctor, and the first thing that they will do is scrub any cream or lotion off, which will cause you intense shooting pain like you have likely never experienced. When you get to the hospital, they can determine if any kind of cream or lotion is appropriate, and give you something for the pain.
American Burn Association
University of California – San Diego
New York Times – Health Guide
National Institute of Health
University of Iowa Hospital
New York University – Langone Medical Center