History of Burn Treatments: Making Patients as Comfortable as Possible

Mustard gas victims in the back of an ambulance

History of Burn Treatments: Making Patients as Comfortable as Possible

A WW1 era skin graft
A WW1 era skin graft

The need to threat burns in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was great. Women’s skirts would catch fire while cooking, or children’s clothing while playing too close to the fireplace or stove. An overturned kerosene or gas lamp would set a home or barn ablaze in minutes. During World War I, men also were burned by mustard gas.

So how were burns treated for those who survived their wounds?

Burns were treated at home using everyday items such as honey, milk, butter, eggs or lard. Ointments such as rose water or oil also were used, as was saline.

More serious wounds were covered with bandages. Antiseptics kept infection from developing. During World War I, burns were disinfected using sodium hypochlorite.

Patients with third-degree burns were given morphine or another opiate for pain relief. Dead skin was cut away.

Mustard Gas Treatments

Mustard gas victims in the back of an ambulance
Mustard gas victims in the back of an ambulance

Mustard gas was first used in 1917. Unlike chlorine gas, which could be seen, mustard gas was clear. Victims often were exposed, but didn’t know it for hours or even days.

Exposure caused irritation, redness and burning. It also affected the digestive and respiratory systems.

Once a soldier was exposed to mustard gas, there was little medical personnel could do.

Treatment was limited to:

  • Eyes were flushed with saline, but blindness was common
  • Skin was treated with petroleum jelly and bleaching powder
  • Gauze soaked in menthol was used to alleviate respiratory distress

Though rarely deadly, mustard gas affected victims permanently, sometimes causing cancer.

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Updated: 26 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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