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Treating Burns – When There Is No Doctor

You were out for a walk in the woods and while returning to your campsite you discover that your duck hunting partner has burned himself on the campfire…

You were out for a walk in the woods and while returning to your campsite you discover that your duck hunting partner has burned himself on the campfire. You find him laying on the ground crying in pain. It is just you and him out there and the nearest doctor (or phone) is miles and miles away. What are you to do? One thing is for certain, you have to do something and you better do it fast.

Head-To-Toe Assessment

Before you can start any type of burn treatment you need to evaluate the situation. Your approach and treatment method depends upon what caused the burn to begin with. Figuring out the cause is vital before you can approach the situation. For example, if it was a chemical burn you would need protective equipment. Also, you need to know if the danger is still present. Say, your partner was in your kitchen when a grease fire occurred. You would want to get him out of harms way before administrating any type of treatment. Finally, you might want to ask him (if he is conscious) when the burning ceased. Your main goal in burn treatment is to:

  1. Get the area that was burned cool.
  2. To reduce any infection (especially if you are in the woods) you want to cover the area that was burned with a sterile cloth. The idea here is to keep the germs out of the burn and to keep any fluids in.

Layers of Skin

Burns do not just occur from fires such as your campfire or matches. There are a varied of situations that can cause a burn. Burns can result from: chemicals, radiation, heat and electrical current. Severity depends upon many different factors such as: burning agents temperature, body part that got burned, how long the victim was exposed to burning agent, depth and size of burned area. Before we get into the Burn Classifications we need to discuss the layers of skin.

The Epidermis: Also known as the outer part of the skin. This area is penetrated by your hairs and includes your nerve endings.

The Dermis: Also known as the middle part of the skin. This area includes: oil glands, blood vessels, sweat glands, and hair follicles.

The Subcutaneous: Also known as the innermost part of the skin. This area includes blood vessels and the muscles.

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Blazing fire

Types of Burns or Classifications

Being aware of the various layers of skin is vital because based on the severity of a burn all three layers of skin could be compromised. Here are the burn classifications followed by the skin area that is likely to be affected along with signs to look for.

Superficial: Affects the outer part of the skin (epidermis). Signs to look for are: pain, dry skin, reddening and possible swelling.

Partial Thickness: Affects the outer part of the skin (epidermis) and some of the middle part of the skin (dermis). Signs to look for include: pain, wet look, blistered, reddening, and possible swelling.

Full Thickness: Completely destroys the outer and middle parts of the skin. Affects the innermost part of the skin (subcutaneous). Signs to look for include: charred, leathery or whitened areas. In these situations the victim may appear in pain or might even appear painless.

Guidelines For Treating a Burn

  • Remove the burnt victim from the fire source. If there remains any flames on the person put them out. If the clothing is smoldering remove it. Do not remove clothing that appears burnt to the skin.
  • If the victims appears to be still hot cool them with cool water. If the victim was completely burned (full thickness) watch for signs of shock. Caution: older people and infants to young children are subject to hypothermia from their burns. Be aware when applying cool compress to one of these types of individuals. Cool an area the size of an arm at one time. Aim for about 15% of their body.
  • To prevent possible infection and to reduce their pain you will want to cover the burn. Use sterile and dry dressings and cover the burn loosely. The idea is to keep the air out. If their hands and/or feet were burnt then loosely wrap them individually.
  • You will want to loosen any clothing near the burn.
  • Extremities that were burned need to be elevated above the heart.

Some Final Burn Treatment Dos and Don’ts

DO when treating someone whose been burned:

  • If they are still hot cool their skin and clothing.
  • Loosely cover burn with dry dressing that is sterile. This keeps the air out, prevents infection and helps to reduce pain.
  • Burnt extremities need to be elevated above the heart.

DON’T when treating someone whose been burned:

  • Never use ice to cool. Ice will cause vessels to constrict.
  • Never use any type of salve, ointments, or antiseptics. These remedies will only hold heat on the burnt area.
  • Do not remove any clothing that has been burnt to the skin. Also, never break blisters or remove tissue from the burnt victim.


Let’s face it, regardless of if or when the SHTF how many of us are always going to make sure that we have a doctor with us at all times? Probably not very likely. Therefore, it is vital to take a couple of first aid classes, learn CPR, and just try to be ready for anything that could happen when you are out there in the world. If not for you then for the person you are traveling with or the one you might run across on your journey.

This article was originally published at Ready Nutrition™ on June 23rd, 2014

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