The mule deer were really active this morning, and we were able to tag out early. Now we have time to cook a hot meal and relax before hiking out tomorrow.” said the hunter. He stoked the fire and began to cook the heart and liver from the day’s harvest. His friend said, “Yeah, it was a great hunt, but that sun is a killer. The back of my neck is scorched! Can you take a look and see how bad I’m sunburned?”
The first hunter headed towards his friend, with the frying pan in hand, when he stumbled, sending blazing hot liver and grease splattering all down the back of his friend’s already burnt neck. The man released a blood-curdling scream as his flesh burned and blistered immediately. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” said the first hunter as he rushed to aid his friend. He stumbled again, this time slapping the frying pan against his friend’s neck as he struggled to regain his balance. The injured man gasped, then collapsed from the pain and desperately needed first aid.
Burns are a common occurrence in daily life. A burn is essentially tissue damage caused by any heat source such as the sun, hot liquids, flames, steam, chemicals, and electricity. Whether at home or in the wilderness, we can follow some specific steps to render first aid to ease the pain and prevent infection. We all must know how to treat a burn.
The first step is to protect the person from further harm. This means removing the source of the burn. If the person is actively on fire, remember to “Stop, drop and roll .” You can wrap the victim in a blanket or jacket and bring them to the ground, rolling them around to smother the flames. Next, we need to remove any constrictive items around the burn, such as jewelry and belts. Rings and watches retain heat and may cause further damage after the initial burn.
The affected areas may also swell, making items difficult to remove later. Constrictive clothing, especially synthetics that may melt to the skin, should also be removed. If it has already stuck to the skin, then leave it in place and cut or tear around the cloth to prevent further damage. Once it’s stuck to the wound, it needs to be removed by a medical professional.
Next, we need to cool the burn. Pour cool water over the burn for 5-10 minutes. Clean water is ideal, but if you’re in the backcountry and a stream is all you have, then stop the burning process first, and then you can clean the burn to prevent the infection later. If it is a severe burn resulting in an open wound, avoid pouring water into it and apply a loose sterile dressing instead and seek medical attention. Do not apply ice in either scenario or other home remedies like butter. Do not break blisters if they form, as this opens up a pathway for infection. Minor burns, such as sunburn, can be treated with lotions containing aloe vera, but this shouldn’t be used on major burns.
It is a good idea to clean the wound to prevent infection. Basic soap and water are your best bet. Try to avoid scented soaps as this is likely to sting, adding unnecessary pain to an already painful event. Now it is time to dress the wound. Cover the burn loosely with a sterile bandage or clean cloth. We need to protect the burned surface from pressure and friction as this will cause undue pain and additional damage. I have personally had great success with a product called BurnTec; it is a hydrogel dressing with a cool, soothing effect that both treats and protects the burned surface. I can’t recommend this product enough and carry it in all my first aid kits. It’s available from North American Rescue and should be a staple in your supplies.
You may administer over-the-counter drugs like ibuprofen and acetaminophen for pain relief and to reduce swelling. If the burn is more severe, it can be helpful to elevate the injury above the heart level. Try to keep the person hydrated. Watch and treat for shock. Symptoms may include clammy skin, weak or rapid pulse, and shallow breathing. Handle this person gently, have them lie down with their feet elevated, and try to keep them warm.
Burns can happen at any time and vary in severity. It’s essential to keep calm and remember the four Cs when it comes to burn care. Those four Cs are cool it, clean it, cover it and call for help. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so handle potential burn sources carefully, get trained in first aid, and have the necessary supplies in your first aid kits to treat a burn. It’s always a good idea to be prepared, and now you’re one step closer to knowing how to treat a burn.