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.  (This post is a companion piece to Melina Druga’s WWI Trilogy, Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year, available wherever eBooks are sold.)

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.

The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga
The WWI Trilogy by Melina Druga: Angel of Mercy, Those Left Behind and Adjustment Year

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Updated: 26 October 2020
Melina Druga
Latest posts by Melina Druga (see all)
Melina Druga is a multi-genre author with a lifelong love of history, books and the English language. She pens historical fiction, chick lit and nonfiction.
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