When I was a teenager, I filled a glass pitcher with boiling water and the pitcher burst. Some of the hot water spilled on my thighs and, before blisters could appear, my mother sliced some tomatoes and rubbed them on my skin. The blisters never materialized. I have no scientific explanation for it. I don’t even know if the tomatoes were a real cure or whether the spatters on my skin were too few and small to cause any real harm. There was never a second nor a third incident to find out if it would work again because I never ever filled glass pitchers with boiling water again. Ever. I learned my lesson and learned it well.
I recalled that incident when I received an email about egg whites as a treatment for skin burns. According to the email:
A young man sprinkling his lawn and bushes with pesticides wanted to check the contents of the barrel to see how much pesticide remained in it. He raised the cover and lit his lighter; the vapors inflamed and engulfed him. He jumped from his truck, screaming. His neighbor came out of her house with a dozen eggs, yelling: “bring me some eggs!” She broke them, separating the whites from the yolks. The neighbor woman helped her to apply the whites on the young man’s face. When the ambulance arrived and when the EMTs saw the young man, they asked who had done this. Everyone pointed to the lady in charge. They congratulated her and said: “You have saved his face.” By the end of the summer, the young man brought the lady a bouquet of roses to thank her. His face was like a baby’s skin.
The email also claimed that using egg whites as a treatment for skin burns is part of the first aid training of firemen. “First aid consists to spraying cold water on the affected area until the heat is reduced and stops burning the layers of skin. Then, spread egg whites on the affected are.”
I got curious and started scouring the web for more information.
First of all, there are degrees of skin burns. From Mayo Clinic:
The least serious burns are those in which only the outer layer of skin is burned, but not all the way through. The skin is usually red, with swelling, and pain sometimes is present…
When the first layer of skin has been burned through and the second layer of skin (dermis) also is burned, the injury is called a second-degree burn. Blisters develop and the skin takes on an intensely reddened, splotchy appearance. Second-degree burns produce severe pain and swelling…
The most serious burns involve all layers of the skin and cause permanent tissue damage. Fat, muscle and even bone may be affected. Areas may be charred black or appear dry and white…
First aid may be applied to first degree burns and some second degree burns. But third degree burns require serious medical attention.
I look back on the pitcher-with-boiling water incident and realize that, at worst, I had the beginnings of a second degree burn. The sliced tomatoes, straight from the refrigerator, cooled the affected areas so there was no pain nor did blisters form.
As for the email, there was no description of the severity of the man’s burns. According to Snopes:
Regarding the rest of the e-mail, fire fighters are not instructed as part of their training to treat burns with egg white. Instead, they learn at-the-scene first aid procedures, which mostly amount to keeping airways open, reducing the temperature of burned areas, then handing off burn victims to medical professionals.
However, that firefighters aren’t being taught to slather burn victims with albumen doesn’t mean that at one time providing exactly that treatment wasn’t a somewhat recommended practice. We happened upon sightings in turn-of-the-century medical journals that advocated the use of egg white on minor burns. Now, granted, most of those sightings promoted such use as a way of shielding injured areas from contamination (that is, using egg white to create a protective barrier between wound and air), but there was also suggestion that the application of this substance would take the pain out of the injury. (Mind you, those selfsame journals also offered up the information that a number of other wet, dense dressings, such as olive oil or a mixture of baking soda and water, would act just as effectively as a wound protectant and calmative for minor burns.)
In short, before believing everything that lands in your inbox, cross and cross-check whatever claims there are. After all, as with everything, the best first aid treatments start with actions based on informed decisions.