How can charcoal help severe burns?
Burn cases. They come from a wide range of causes (gasoline, X-ray, electrical, chemical, steam…). But, when you come face to face with a severe burn victim, you want to run away and hide. If you can somehow shut out the screaming and crying, where do you begin to help the poor soul? Kind gentle words seem very empty. There is hope in simple natural remedies.
Burns, in general, are another injury that respond very well to cold or icy water, or a cold-water spray. I have listened to some amazing accounts of severely scalded children being immersed in cold water, who were quickly relieved of all pain and healed without any scars at all. To subject someone who is critically burned to cold or icy water seems to me to be cruel. However there is sufficient research* to show that if a burn victim can immediately have the burned areas immersed in cold water, there is significant reversal of tissue damage, and inflammation and swelling are reduced, with little or no blistering or scarring. The general advice seems to be the use of water temperatures between 10° and 15°C (50° to 58°F), or cold tap water for ten to thirty minutes.
* Lawrence, JC, British Burn Association recommended first aid for burns and scalds, Burns Including Thermal Injuries, 13:153, 1987
Leaves from some common plants of the field (mullein, comfrey, dandelion…), when steamed and then allowed to cool, can be laid directly over severe burns, relieving pain and promoting healing, and they can be removed with much, much less trauma than conventional dressing that sticks to the body. Aloe Vera plants have a long history for relieving and healing burns. It is recorded that Alexander the Great had wagonloads of the plants hauled along on his extensive military campaigns as an indispensable remedy and healing agent. I saw first hand the power of Aloe Vera as a burn wound remedy while working in a remote clinic in Nepal. But for this article we will focus on charcoal as another simple but uncommon remedy.
We have heard, and it would seem, that somehow charcoal first goes to work to relieve the severe pain of burns. The idea of mixing up charcoal powder with boiling water and some gelling agent, letting it cool, and then spreading the black jelly over raw flesh and black crusted skin is foreign to all we may have learned about cleaning a burn wound and sterile white dressings, but somehow it not only can relieve pain, but as importantly, promote healing. Read down for some amazing stories.
The reality is a burn does need to be cleaned and debrided of dead tissue – that is a traumatic experience to all within hearing distance. Once done charcoal can be applied. Charcoal can be applied in a very primitive setting as a mixture of powder and boiled water, or as a mixture of powder, boiled water, and Aloe Vera or some other gelling agent (flax seed meal, cassava root flour, oat flour, corn starch). After sufficient cooling, it can be applied directly to the burn area, or it can be placed within a paper towel or cloth and then applied (wet side) to the burn. Charcoal can also be applied as a commercial wound dressing (ACC+ Plus, or Actisorb) made from activated carbon cloth, sometimes impregnated with colloidal silver. While the commercial wound dressings are used in military and hospital settings primarily, their function is similar to the primitive charcoal poultice. The great advantages of the activated carbon cloth dressing is its sterile packaging, clean appearance, ease of application, and its ease of removal without pain.
Charcoal has been shown to adsorb some infectious microbes that prevent healing as well as the odor associated with dead flesh. The wound odor is the product of chemical destruction of the flesh. Charcoal goes to work to not only adsorb the odors but also the agents that are destroying the tissue. The problem with this whole picture is that charcoal is black, the antithesis of what we picture as sterile and clean. In reality, if produced and stored correctly, the charcoal powder is probably more sterile than the clean white gauze bandages in their clean white packaging. Remember too, charcoal is itself antibacterial and antifungal. These microbes just do not like to live in charcoal. But it will always be black. So, if you can divorce yourself of the idea that black can’t be sterile and clean, then in an emergency you can apply a charcoal wound dressing knowing it has every reason to help. For example:
The doctors Thrash relate this case of an overdose of X-ray. “We had a patient who had a large, deep ulcer (twelve inches in diameter) due to an x-ray burn on his back. The burn was from an overdose of x-ray used for treating a skin cancer. The ulcer became infected and foul smelling. His entire house smelled of the ulcer, despite the most fastidious care. We started dressing the ulcer by sprinkling dry charcoal from a saltshaker on all the moist areas before applying gauze. Instantly the odor vanished from the ulcer, and gradually left the house. Although the patient eventually succumbed to the radiation sickness, he and his whole family were grateful for the charcoal.”
The foul smelling wounds caused by the bacteria Bacillus pyocyanase can be dissipated in one treatment by the use of charcoal. Healing is also improved, as the charcoal takes up bacteria. One good way to apply charcoal to a foul ulcer is by putting some of the powder in a saltshaker with a few grains of rice. With every bandage change, shake the powdered charcoal on the wound. Eczema has also been successfully treated using charcoal, especially where there is infection and odor.
The prestigious British medical journal, The Lancet, reported this exciting study. In varicose leg ulcers and in infected surgical wounds, a single layer of charcoal cloth covered with a porous fabric sleeve dressing gave a noticeable reduction in wound odor in 95% of 39 patients. Wound cleansing was also noted in 80 % of the patients. There were no adverse reactions to the material. The dressings did not stick to the wounds and could be removed without difficulty. Because the human skin allows for the transfer of liquids, gasses and even micro-particles through its permeable membrane and pores, it was also shown that warm, moist activated charcoal poultices were actually able to draw bacteria and poisons through the skin and into the poultice. CharcoalRemedies.com page 149
Cigarette & Gasoline
“Dr. Baldwin [Wildwood Hospital, Wildwood Georgia] shared one other story about an eleven-year-old boy named Jimmy who was the unfortunate victim of a cigarette and a can of gasoline, leaving him severely burned on the backs of his legs: “He was brought to our hospital, and immediately laid face down on an examining table. In places his trousers were burned to his skin, and he was shrieking with pain. Immediately upon his arrival, I commandeered a crew of male nurses to prepare a large quantity of charcoal slurry. As I cleared his legs of all possible foreign matter, the crew smeared this thick paste of charcoal slurry on a piece of cotton flannel that would reach from side to side and waist to ankles. Then we quickly flipped this wet poultice, charcoal side down, over the burned area. Instantly the shrieking ceased, and the exhausted boy heaved a big sigh of relief. The cold charcoal had completely relieved his pain. All that Jimmy had was charcoal. He was spared his limbs to walk again.”
This case happened before the advent of cold therapy for burns. After the initial healing, Jimmy received skin grafts to complete his recovery.
What Dr. Baldwin used regularly in her practice, other progressive physicians are also discovering. The Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, describes the use of charcoal compresses to speed the healing of wounds and to eliminate their odors. This article [Sept 13, 1980] tells about the amazing ability of human skin to allow the transfer of liquids, gasses and even micro-particles through its permeable membrane and pores. By the application of moist activated charcoal compresses and poultices, bacteria and poisons are drawn through the skin and into the charcoal. Poultices must be kept moist and warm to allow this healing process to take place. CharcoalRemedies.com page 108
Days to Live
We met Willy a few years ago while conducting health programs in Uganda. Willy is the director of an NGO that oversees water well installations and an AIDS/HIV orphanage. He and his wife have become enthusiastic believers in the power of even natural charcoal powder. But, even with numerous miraculous experiences both with their own family and others, Willy was naturally intimidated and fearful to suggest charcoal in what looked to all as a hopeless case. In his own words:”…Previous I treated a boy who was burnt with hot water and was taken to a clinic. He failed to get cured. By the time we approached them [the family] the boy was remained with few days to die, because all the body was producing puss and was smelling, and when you touch on him you come with the skin in your finger tips. I even feared to treat him with charcoal because I was thinking in my heart that I may spread him with charcoal and [if he] fail to get cured and after ward he will die, I feared people to say that charcoal has killed that boy. Then I prayed in my heart and received courage within my heart. I boiled charcoal mixed with cassava flour and Aloevera, then after placed it on the parts of the body which are affected. We didn’t remove it for one week. After [another] one and half week the boy was found cured.
I didn’t have a camera but I tried using my phone and it was not clear but [this story] can give you a good imagination about it.”
When we find ourselves bewildered what to do, may we do as Willy, pray in our heart. Surely the God of heaven, who even sees the sparrow that falls to the ground, will hear and direct our minds to some simple remedy near at hand, whether it is cold water, some plant leaves or even charcoal.
3rd Degree Burn Survivor Testimony
Here is a Testimony of a major burn injury survivor who used activated charcoal.