/ first aid burn dressings
They are not really an alternative to water, ideally you use both together:
Water is much more cooling, and should always be used first (preferably in combination with a cellophane cover as this gives an excellent analgesic effect). The water cools the tissues down so the ongoing burning to the skin stops. Also water is useful for chemical burns as it will wash chemicals away / dilute the effect which dressings will not.
Burn dressings are good after 10 minutes of cooling the burn down because they keep the area wet (and covered to help prevent infection). Of course if you have no source of water the burn dressings are better than nothing (or just using cellophane) because there will be some cooling effect of the dressing.
I don't know of any evidence of a difference between gels and dressings. The idea is to keep the area moist and clean and I suspect both do this in a similar way.
My personal preference would be to not waste money on them unless expecting prolonged transport times to definitive healthcare, or working in an environment where you are likely to see a lot of burns. I can't imagine any of the mountain rescue people on here carry them but I would be interested how they rationalise the weight and cost if they do?
Although i am far from an expert in this, a lot of the gelatinised water based gels (often impregnated into dressings) are potentially better than water - they have a large capacity for heat absorption, are unlikely to melt onto the lesion, don't run the risk of over-cooling the patient, etc. I have used them to good effect with facial scalds in kids (which is certainly easier than holding them under the cold tap for 10 minutes!). Tend to keep them at home & in the car, but will take some out if taking a group out on an overnight camp. As splat suggests they are more expensive than a stream, but they're not that expensive or heavy (at least compared to lots of the other stuff we carry)
I've used 'Burnshield Hydrogel' in the past. It is an emergency burn gel with the main ingredient being Tea tree oil. Really good stuff - highly recommend it. You can buy it in sachets for first aid kits or bigger bottles for home use.
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