Homeopath says to treat a burn… burn it some more

By Grant Jacobs 16/01/2012

A homeopath claims to have been taught at a homeopathy course that burns should be treated by burning them further.

Y’know: like cures like and all that.

Reading the homeopath’s description, it’s worse. There’s mystical ‘vital forces’ at play too. Sigh.

More importantly, this ‘alternative’ remedy causes harm.

Often it’s argued ‘what’s the harm’ of alternative remedies. In most cases homeopathic treatments in and of themselves do no harm simply because they have no effect beyond that of a placebo. They can cause harm come from delaying effective treatment, however.

Here the treatment itself causes harm.

The first comment on to the post is by a burns doctor whose response is pithy and worth reading. Let me excerpt the middle paragraphs in full:

To make some brief comments: heating tissues damages them. Heating them more, on purpose, damages them more and is extremely unwise. It MAY, however, cause the burn to hurt less — once a certain depth of injury is achieved the skins pain receptors are also damaged. That is why sunburn (the most superficial type of burn) is very painful, a superficial dermal burn (such as the blistered hand of the author’s daughter) moderately so, deep dermal burns are less painful and full thickness burns are painless. However, superficial and superficial dermal burns heal without scarring, whereas deep dermal and full thickness burns do not. It’s not a good idea to convert a superficial burn to a deep one because they hurt less!

The blistered burn was always going to heal without scarring, certainly within 3 weeks. In this case it did so despite ’treatment’, not because of it.

One of the values of science is that it tries to determine how things really are. What the burns doctors presents is an example. On the face of it, it might seem odd that superficial burns can hurt more than deep ones. An understanding that deep burns damage pain receptors makes sense of this.

Contrast that with the homeopath’s ‘authoritative’ text: ’Hahnemann’s advice is that the heating should continue until there is no more pain.’

I’d deconstruct the rest–there’s plenty to wrangle over–but I’m sure my sciblogs colleagues will step into the breach. I think most of us know, for example, that medical science dropped the notion of ‘vital forces’ long ago, for good reasons. That his sort of thing is just nonsense – ’left alone a burn, ‘burnt’, as in the vital force would produce heat. By applying cold water this burning effect was reduced and the vital force had to summon even more heat. If instead we assist the vital force by applying heat the job would be done more quickly.’

(Hat tip to Ben Goldacre for his tweet of the link to the homeopath’s article.)

Coming up

Posts coming up on Code for life include –

  • Future medicine – personal and/or stratified, a brief look at a conceptual change in personalised medicine and personal genomics.
  • Review of a science textbook with a different style, showing how the science came to be.
  • Somewhere down the track I’d like to cover Dravet Syndrome (I still have a few references to gather and then need to read them…)
  • More on the shape of genomes. Zinc finger proteins, too.
  • And a bunch of things about computational biology…

Some other articles on homeopathy at Code for life:

Homeopathy — practical remedies to address it?

Message to Otago Daily Times: homeopath is not a sound career option*

Pharmacists to say that homeopathy does not work?

Undiluted humour: If Homeopathy Beats Science

Homeopathic remedies in NZ pharmacies

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