Thank you for joining me on today’s episode of Simple Health Radio.

Today’s question comes to us from Terel Jackson, who is the host of “Health Science for the Rest of Us” podcast. This is a very interesting podcast and they talk about a lot of common health topics in different ways. I highly recommend you take a listen to some of the recent episodes.

Terrel sent in a question about burns. Let’s have a listen:

First, let me thank Terel for taking the time to record a great question about burns.

When we see people in the ER or the urgent care they and have a burn, we have to identify several different factors immediately.

We need to know what caused the burn, for example, touching a hot object, chemical burn, sunburn, scalding burn, or explosion.

Then we need to know the exact part of the body that was affected. We need to know if it was the hand, face, neck, or joint.

Then we have to measure it in centimeters so that we can calculate something called the total body surface area. For example, we use a rule of nines. Each arm is 9% of the total body. The abdominal area is 18% of the total body. Each leg is 18%. So if somebody has a scald burn or explosion and it affects both their arms and abdominal region, that could easily be 30% of their body surface area. That affects the whole treatment for complex burns.

Once we’ve identified the patient’s history, then we go to the anatomy. There are 4 major types of burns. 1st°, 2nd°, 3rd°, and 4th°. These are based on the depth of the burn. So you can have a burn that doesn’t go very deep but it covers over 50% of the body. That’s the 1st burn and the most common type is a sunburn. A sunburn only affects the epidermis meaning the outermost layer. After a few days or a week, the skin will peel and there’s no scar tissue underneath it.

Compare that to a 2nd° burn, which goes into the dermal layer. That’s the layer under the epidermis and there’s a lot of the nerve endings.If you touch a hot stove you’re going to get blisters and a 2nd-degree burn even though it only affected the fingertips. So here you have a less than 1% total body surface area, but you could have a bad burn because it’s a 2nd degree in depth.

A 3° or 4° burn goes deeper and deeper into the body. These often burns through muscle and sometimes even to the bone. There may be charred flesh. These people are going to be hospitalized. Maybe they were in a house fire or a car accident where there was a lot of flames that overwhelmed their body. These people have a high risk of serious complications and may need surgery, amputation, and careful monitoring in the ICU.

Now that we talked about the classifications of burns, we can answer the question that was sent in by Terel. Can you treat burns with butter? That answer is no.

It is true that people in the past have tried using butter as a burn ointment. However, it has been studied and it causes increasing pain, increasing risk of infection, and no benefit to healing. So don’t use butter on a burn whether it’s a first-degree, second degree or third degree.

What things have been studied and proven to help? The first thing is cool water. Not ice water not freezing cold water. Just cool water from the tap. If you have any type of a burn whether it’s a superficial burn or a sunburn running a little bit of cool water for about 10 to 15 minutes will help to calm it down and you can cleanse it with some mild soap and water to reduce the bacteria and hopefully reduce infection.

The 2nd thing is cool compresses. For example a towel under cool water which you can apply as a wet dressing for about 5 or 10 minutes onto a burn. Many people use antibiotic ointments like Neosporin or bacitracin and then they will apply a very light dressing to help keep it covered and prevent infection. You don’t want to you something too tight because you have to let the burn breathe.

Aloe vera also helps. A small amount of aloe on a first-degree or second-degree burn has been shown to be anti-inflammatory and helps to promote circulation.

One of the newer treatments is actually a very ancient treatment is honey. Some burn centers now use honey as a topical antibacterial and antifungal agent. I don’t recommend you do this at home unless you are going to a burn center or you see a specialist, but it is something you will come across if you read about it.

There are ways to reduce the scarring and the pain associated with burns. The 1st thing is to avoid popping the blister. Often times a 2nd° or 3rd° burn will have blister formation. The blister fluid is sterile. However, if you poke it with your finger or a needle, now you’ve created an opportunity for bacteria to sneak in and that can become a boil or cellulitis or other serious infection. Don’t pop blisters. The blisters protect the burn and allow the new skin to grow underneath safely. As long as the blister remains on top for a longer duration of time, the risk of scarring actually goes down.

Now you should also avoid the sun after having a burn. The sunlight absorbs heavily into a wound that actively healing. That means if you have fair skin and you get a burn whether it’s first-degree or second-degree and you go out in the sun, that area actually absorbs more sunrays and that will cause it to darken compared to the area around it. So you need to keep those burns covered with light clothing or gauze in order to reduce the risk of a permanent scar.

We do recommend getting a tetanus vaccination. Tetanus is a bacteria that lives in the dirt on metal and outdoor objects. If you have burn that could be contaminated or happens outdoors, you should get your Tetanus booster every 5 to 10 years.

If you develop any complications such as severe pain, oozing from the burn site, odor, fever, or anything that just doesn’t look right, always go to your doctor or the ER. Some people do need to be hospitalized to receive aggressive wound care to reduce the risk of infection and to promote healing. Some burns need surgery to graft skin from one part of the body to another in order to create a more cosmetically appealing wound.

I have links on our website to learn more about different types of burns.

I want to thank Terel from the “Health Science For the Rest of Us” podcast. You can visit their website They are very active on social media with a lot of information about different medical topics.

If you have a question you would like me to answer, just record it on your phone or computer and send it to us via email. You can connect with us on social media and listen to all of our episodes on Spotify or your favorite podcast app.


Question sent in by:

The “Health Science (For the Rest of Us!)” Podcast
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