By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
New Zealand ordered 1,290 square feet of skin for volcanic burn victims last week, The Washington Post reported. The eruption of a volcano on White Island caused serious injury to dozens who will need skin grafts. Understanding burn injuries can save lives.
The Post article said that there were nearly 50 people on White Island when the volcano erupted. Eight died in the disaster and another 22 were in critical condition due to burns. A local chief medical officer said that the burns from the volcano required more immediate treatment than many other burns due to the involvement of “gases and chemicals in the eruption.” In most instances, varying degrees of first aid can treat heat-related injuries. If you find yourself in such a predicament, especially if you’re out in the wild camping, it’s important to know whether to treat the injury yourself and keep going or seek medical attention.
Determining Burn Severity
It goes without saying that the first step in administering first aid to a burn is to submerge it in cool water. Then, just like most injuries suffered away from immediate medical assistance, you should determine the seriousness of your burn. With burn injuries, as well as damage to soft tissue like cuts and scrapes, the terms to consider for your injury are if they’re “simple” or “high-risk.”
“The difference between the two is that a person with a simple wound can probably continue their trip; whereas, a person with a high-risk wound needs to get to a doctor,” said Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre, Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department of Northland College in Lake Superior. “If it’s a simple burn, you can treat it just like any simple wound: clean, dress, and monitor. If it’s high-risk, the person needs to get to a hospital, ideally within 48 hours. Knowing how deep the burn is will help you determine if it’s high-risk.”
According to Dr. Andre, if the skin is inflamed and sensitive but there are no blisters, it’s a superficial burn. Next, if the skin has blistered and it’s sensitive, it’s known as a “partial-thickness burn.” Finally, “if the skin is blackened or leathery with reduced sensation, it’s a full-thickness burn,” she said.
Identifying a High-Risk Burn
Dr. Andre said that all full-thickness burns are high-risk because the skin is dead and can easily get infected.
“A partial-thickness burn can also be high-risk if it’s on the face, genitalia, hands, or feet, or if it completely encircles an extremity,” she said. “Burns in these places can cause lots of swelling, and that can reduce circulation. Also, any burn that covers more than 10 percent of someone’s body is high-risk because the large area of damaged skin may make it difficult for the person to regulate their body temperature or stay hydrated.”
Any burn involving the respiratory system is also high-risk since it can interfere with breathing. If someone has burned facial hair, “sooty spit,” or develops a sudden and persistent cough, they should be evacuated to a hospital immediately.
Knowing the seriousness of a burn that someone accrues while out in the wilderness can mean the difference between life or death.
Dr. Elizabeth K. Andre contributed to this article. Dr. Andre is an Associate Professor of Nature and Culture in the Outdoor Education Department at Northland College on the South Shore of Lake Superior. She earned her M.A. in Outdoor Education from Griffith University in Australia and her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction of Science and Environmental Education from the University of Minnesota.