Don't believe that e-mail about using egg whites on bad burns

Posted: June 11, 2012

Question: I got an e-mail that described using egg whites to treat a bad burn. It said the collagen protein in egg whites helped heal the burn. Is that really true?

Answer: No, it's not. Placing egg whites on a second-degree burn (blistering skin) or a third-degree burn (a burn through the entire thickness of the skin) places the person at high risk of salmonella bacteria entering through a defect in the skin to cause illness. Salmonella bacteria are commonly found in raw eggs, and burned skin acts as an excellent culture medium for all sorts of bacteria.

There's nothing magical about egg whites' purported healing properties, other than that they might provide a protective barrier over burned tissue. They do not speed rapid healing of tissue. The e-mail also falsely claims that firefighters recommend or are trained to apply egg whites for the first-aid treatment of burns.

For first- and second-degree burns, cool water is helpful to draw out the heat and to soothe and stop the burning process. Third-degree burns are often associated with shock and rapid loss of body heat, so cool water to such burns should be administered cautiously (if at all) along with IV-fluid resuscitation by trained emergency personnel.

Q: For the last four years or so, I've had to get up multiple times at night to urinate. I assumed it was due to an enlarged prostate, but medications for that didn't help. When I recently began wearing a CPAP mask (continuous positive air pressure) for sleep apnea, I almost immediately noticed a decrease in urination to only once a night (or none). Can you explain why I'm so much better?

A: Nocturia, or getting up at night to urinate, tends to occur with increasing frequency as we get older. Among 50-to-69-year-olds, 58 percent of men and 66 percent of women experience the condition. For those over age 80, the incidence goes up to 72 percent for men and 91 percent for women.

There are various explanations for this, including an enlarged prostate causing incomplete bladder emptying; bladder muscle overactivity; menopause (estrogen replacement can reduce the incidence of nocturia); and the underrecognized condition of obstructive sleep apnea.

Here's how sleep apnea causes nocturia:

The job of the heart's right ventricle is to pump blood to the lungs to get oxygenated. In obstructive sleep apnea, one is cutting off the airway multiple times per hour with many episodes where there's no breathing. During these brief episodes, the pressure is building up inside the right ventricle because blood can't flow into the lungs. The body senses the increased right heart pressure and sends a false signal that the person has too much fluid onboard and is in congestive heart failure. There's a hormonal release of atrial natriuretic peptide (acts like a diuretic), and the fluid-preserving hormone vasopressin decreases. The net effect is increased urination at night. As you've discovered, wearing a CPAP mask at night can correct frequent nocturia.

Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: "Ask Dr. H," P.O. Box 767787, Atlanta, Ga. 30076. Due to the large volume of mail received, personal replies are not possible.

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