First Aid For Burns - Cold and Hot

by Glen Moyer


In the movie E.T. the Extra-terrestrial, the film's main character, E.T., delivers this one-word line with a pnash that only someone from another planet could manage. And to take care of the "ouch" required only the gentle touch of a softly glowing fingertip. But for us mere mortals, taking care of an "ouch" can be a bit more difficult.

Propane Freezes

Liquid propane vaporizes quickly and will cause extreme frostbite if it touches your body. One of the greatest dangers during refueling operations is the possible contact between your skin and propane. Should this occur take the following steps.

Place the victim in a warm area as soon as possible to allow the injured area to warm gradually. If the area warms to rapidly, further damage may result to the tissue.

Gently cover or drape the injured area with a clean dressing (sheet, etc.).

To relieve pain, you can immerse area in water that is neither hot or cold, but a neutral temperature (100-105F).

If possible, have the victim gradually begin to exercise the injured area.

Give the victim warm liquids (non-alcoholic).

Do not expose the injured area to excess heat or cold such as heat lamps, hot water, snow, or ice.

Seek immediate medical assistance.

Heat and Fire

Being surrounded, as we balloonists are, by a flammable liquid and a burner designed to produce millions of BTU's, the odds are that at one time or another we may fall victim to a burn. It may be from accidentally brushing against hot burner coils, possibly from an on-board fire, or even a refueling flashfire. Whatever the cause, proper first aid can be key to a complete recovery regardless of the severity of the burn.

Burns are classified by degrees of severity as either a 1st, 2nd or 3rd degree burn. The characteristics of each are as follows:

1st - reddened skin with mild swelling and pain
2nd - blisters on red, streaked, or blotchy skin with swelling, a moist oozing surface and pain
3rd - white or charred skin, often with little or no pain because of nerve damage

Medical experts judge the severity of burns based on the layers of skin destroyed. Human skin is divided into four layers. The epidermis or outer surface area, the dermis where our hair follicles are rooted, an underlying fat layer and finally the muscle and bone.

Typically a first degree burn simply reddens the outer skin layer, the epidermis. A sunburn is typical of this type of burn or it may also be caused by brief contact with a hot object.

First aid for a 1st degree burn includes cooling the skin by immersing it in cool water or applying clean, cool compresses. Pain can be treated with aspirin. An aloe vera ointment may also be applied to cool the skin and help prevent blistering.

A second degree burn will usually involve the underlying dermis skin layer. This results not only in a reddening of the skin, but the body will also release fluids which cause blisters. Common causes of this type of burn are deep sunburns, prolonged contact with hot objects, scalding with hot liquids and steam, and flash burns from flammable liquids.

Medical attention should be sought for care of blisters from any second degree burn. Cold water or compresses (do not use ice) will again help relieve pain. If the burn area is small enough you can immerse it in water or hold it under a running tap (not so forceful that it causes pain or breaks blisters). If the second degree burn covers more than 10-percent of the body i.e. an entire leg or back, immediate medical attention should be sought for care of blisters and for advice on how to relieve pain, protect against infection and guard against dehydration. Third degree burns involve actual destruction of all layers of skin and may require skin grafts to heal. Because nerve endings have been destroyed there may be little or no pain.

Third degree burns are usually caused by fire or electrical shock (powerline contact). IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE SHOULD BE SOUGHT FOR ALL 3RD DEGREE BURNS. ALSO BE PREPARED TO TREAT THE VICTIM FOR SHOCK. If the burned area is small, less than 2 inches across, cold water may be applied. This will cool the area and cleanse it. However, with any larger burn, do not use cold water. Because the body will release fluids and form blisters, the application of cold water could cause too-sudden cooling and increase the severity of shock. Cover the burned area loosely with a lean dressing (gauze, handkerchief, shirt, etc.) and transport the victim to medical help immediately.

Finally, NEVER apply home remedies, butter, pain relief medication, creams, ointments or sprays without a doctor's direction. These often must be painfully scraped from the burn before medical personnel can treat the burn.

Shock can be an almost immediate complication from any burn, and especially from a serious burn. The principle cause of what we call "shock" is a sudden decrease in blood pressure. Symptoms that the burn victim may be going into shock include pale, cold and clammy skin. Eyes will become dull and lackluster while the pulse is rapid and weak. Breathing may also be irregular and labored.

To treat for shock keep the victim lying down. If on the ground, elevate the lower extremities, so long as this will not aggravate any injuries. You may also need to elevate the head and shoulders slightly, but be sure there are no accompanying head injuries as these may also involve spinal damage and the victim should not be moved.

Assure adequate breathing and keep the patient's airway clear of obstructions. Keep onlookers away and if available, administer oxygen. Loosen tight clothing around the neck, chest and waist for easier breathing and circulation.

You should also keep the victim warm and dry by wrapping in blankets, clothes or other available materials. These should be placed under the victim as well as on top. Remember however that the objective is to maintain a body temperature as near to normal as possible, not to add heat.

Finally don't forget the victim's emotional well being as well as their physical. Calm and reassure them. Never ask about their injuries and keep curious onlookers away.

The American Red Cross and other health organizations offer a variety of first aid classes to the public. If you or someone on your crew is not trained in first aid you might consider training of this type.

Copyright © 1997 Balloon Life. All rights reserved.