20 Home Remedies for Treating Minor Burns: Not!

Posted on 04 Dec 2011 21:14

Instead of listing out twenty tips in an obviously deceitful display of "yeah right you gullible fool," all I really need to say is this: Pick twenty random things from around your house that can be smeared on a burn, poured on a burn, etc. And you have your twenty home remedy tips.

Soy sauce. Mustard. Vinegar. Hey, take some chewing tobacco, chew it up real good, and spit it on your burns. I swear, it works wonders. My grandmother used to swear on it for bee stings, too. The point is it doesn't matter what I say, there is someone who will believe it.

Okay, so many people swear by using soy sauce for burns. Especially if you believe the comments in reply to articles on "The People's Pharmacy," those purveyors of crap science for the gullible and easily duped. But what you may not realize is that I can pretty much pick something out of my refrigerator or pantry and write a little article on how it works for burns and be guaranteed that some people will try it and find that it "works." And if I put it on the right kind of website, say one that speaks out against "bad science" (oh, the irony), Big Pharma, and the guvment, I can probably get plenty of testimonials, in the form of comments in response to my little home remedy article. We are losing the battle against irrational thought, that's all there is to it. But I do hope the tide turns soon.

So does soy sauce do anything for a burn? How should I know? I have no physiological or other basis for believing it should work. I've never seen any type of study done on soy sauces for treating burns. Why? Can you imagine writing out a grant request for your big honking study on soy sauce for healing burns? No. So there is not a good well controlled study or a bad one. They don't exist. But according to some people's "home experiments," soy sauce works. It kills the pain and speeds the healing.

What does that tell us? It tells us nothing. Nothing, folks! Mustard works the same way, according to "home experiments." Can you imagine smearing such an irritant on a burn? Well people will do some very silly things. What do mustard and soy sauce have in common? Rhetorical question. What can we say about the anecdotal evidence concerning soy sauce and burns? A lot. The first thing, of course, is the fact that it is anecdotal evidence in the first place. But beyond that, what about the people who report these experiences? Are they lying? Well, not exactly, or at least not always. Anecdotal reports do not have to be untrue, as far as the basic facts are concerned. They are just unreliable as a source of evidence to support a claim. In this case, the anecdotal experiences of some people who have used soy sauce to treat minor burns cannot be relied upon as a source of scientific evidence to support the claim that soy sauce helps minor burns.

And yet something must be going on, right? I mean, if a couple of people say that they used soy sauce on their burn and the pain went away, and they are not lying, then soy sauce must do something for burns. Nope. It does not follow. Seems like it follows, I know. So just why aren't these personal experiences a valid representation of the effectiveness of soy sauce as a burn remedy?

Well the main reason, in my opinion, which is really the elephant in the room, has to do with what is called a "causal inference." Causal inference is something I have mentioned again and again, in many different contexts, because so many trainees make them without knowing how very difficult they are to make!

The Oh So Inaccurate Causal Inference

Okay, so causal inference works like this: You're taking a tray of cookies out of the oven and your finger accidentally touches the hot baking sheet. For you hardcore bodybuilder types lets say it's a piping hot tray of homemade protein bars. Ouch! You run to the sink to run some cold water on your burned finger and while you're doing that you remember reading that soy sauce was just the thing to relieve the pain of a burn and make it heal fast. Matter of fact, it is apparently miraculous in its burn relieving properties! So you get out the Kikoman, pour a little in a saucer and just sort of soak your finger in it for a while.

Next thing you know, your finger doesn't really hurt at all. What's more, no blister forms and the next day, besides a little redness in the area, the burn seems to be pretty much taken care of. The soy sauce worked and as far as you're concerned you have proven it by a medical experiment. Well, before you rush out and buy Medicine for Dummies and hang out your shingle, you might want to read on.

First, since we're talking about causal inference in the context of your little experiment we will ignore the obvious: Your experiment sucked. There was only one subject, there was no control. You are not a trained scientist and know nothing at all about setting up valid research studies. Let's ignore that and just say that you have made a causal inference about your lack of pain and the use of soy sauce.

Before I lay doubts on your reasoning skills let me say that when it comes to causal inference, we humans are particularly adept. We can draw quick conclusions about why someone does a certain thing or a particular event happens and stand a very good chance of being right on the money. We don't even have to realize that we are making such a conclusion.

For instance, if you are taking your new puppy out for a walk and just as you open the front door there is a huge crack of thunder, your puppy may then associate the door with the noise, and thus become frightened of the door, at least for a little while. A dog does not rationalize or understand that it is making an inference. Door equals noise is probably the extent of his understanding. On the other hand, your four year old child, although he may initially associate the door with the thunder may quickly realize that he has heard thunder on other occasions when the door was not being opened and that he has seen the door opened many times without an accompanying clap of thunder. Or, if he does not realize these things, he may discover them later and consider that this new evidence lays doubt on his impression that the door caused the thunder. Regardless of how he comes to the conclusion that his initial impression was wrong, however, he will gather and process information regarding the incident and thus come to some conclusion. This we do constantly, even on a daily basis, whether we are scientists or not. The more experience we gain in the world, the more accurately and quick come our inferences.

So let's compare thunder to minor skin burns. What happens when lightning strikes? Thunder follows. We know this. It's not chance. You can lay a bet on it. Even if you don't see the lightning, but hear the thunder, you can attribute it to lightning and be darned confident in your assessment of the situation. So what happens when you burn your finger on a tray of cookies?

Well, let's see. It hurts. And unless there is something neurologically wrong, you snatch your hand away as quickly as possible. What else? How long does it keep hurting? Does it turn red? Does it blister? Does your finger fall off? How long does it take to heal?

You're getting the point, I know. Burns are variable. You cannot make many accurate predictions about a 'burn' in general until you see the severity of the burn. And there can be a broad difference between two MINOR burns depending on the temperature of the object giving the burn, the time of contact, and the speed of your response…such as how quick you run cold water over it.

So I want you to think back. You do a lot of cooking, right? How many times have you burned yourself in the last year? Hurry up, I'm waiting. Three times? Ten times? More? You don't know, do you? You don't remember exactly. You may be thinking, BS, Eric, I remember. About five times.

I'll bet you're wrong in your guess. I don't think there is much chance you remember every little burn you got. Because they are little. They stopped hurting within a half hour at most..maybe just a dull pain left at most and you forgot all about them. They just weren't dramatic enough or significant enough to make a lasting impression. You remember the blisters. The big ones. The dramatic ones. But not every one.

Some burns are just not a big deal and they pass away quietly..becoming a "non event." Some burns form a blister and take a few weeks to fully heal. Some are even worse. But when you burn your finger and reach for the soy sauce, you do not take any of that into account when you make your causal inference. You do not take into account that this ONE instance of the pain going away quickly does not give you enough data to make an accurate inference, based on the "natural history" of a burn. You quickly connect soy sauce to burn healer. I guarantee that if you mapped out your burns for a year (not burning yourself on purpose of course) and used soy sauce on half of them and nothing but a cold water rinse on the other half you would find that the same thing happens to both sets. Some burns are minor and the pain goes away quickly. And some burns last. Regardless of soy sauce. What's more, I think you'd find this to be true even if your monitoring system wasn't very good.

So, what I want you, the reader, to realize, is that the way we think causes us to accept such claims and to rationalize the validity of those claims even though our own personal evidence is so flimsy. We do not need a bunch of high-brow talk of statistics and studies to understand that we just don't know as much as we think we know, much of the time.

So Do We Need a Soy Sauce Burn Study? NO! Absolutely not. Because there is absolutely no reason to think that soy sauce has any efficacy for burns and research dollars would be better spent on things that have at least a modicum of physiological basis. I do have my mind open to the possibility that there is a basis for the efficacy of soy sauce, and other things, for burn treatment, and that it may turn out to be a working treatment. But that does not mean I keep my mind so open I completely misplace it.

In case you actually came to this article looking for information on treating minor burns, please see How To Treat Minor Burns: Basic First Aid.

This page created 04 Dec 2011 21:14
Last updated 20 Jul 2016 19:24

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