What is chemical burns?

Chemical Burns
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Chemical burns: Overview

Chemicals can cause skin burns or allergic reactions. Sometimes they're poisonous. Chemical burns need to be checked and treated. Call a Poison Control Center right away to help find out what treatment is needed. Then call your doctor if needed.

A chemical burn may be serious because of what corrosive or irritating chemicals can do to the skin. A chemical burn on the skin can be deeper and larger than the burn first appears. If the chemical can be rinsed with water, the burning process can be reduced. But you have to rinse the area right away with a large amount of water. Waiting just a few minutes to rinse the burned area can increase the chance of the burn becoming more serious.

The face, eyes, hands, and feet are the most common body areas burned by chemicals.

If a chemical has been swallowed that may be a poison or may cause burning in the throat and esophagus, call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) right away for information on treatment. When you call the Poison Control Center, have the chemical container with you so you can read the contents label to the Poison Control staff member.

Preventing electrical burns in children

Electrical burns are caused by contact with electrical sources or by lightning. Electrical current passing through a person's body may injure blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. Also, the throat and lungs can swell rapidly and severely, making breathing hard. The current can also damage the heart.

Protect your child around your home by using the following safety measures.

  • Place plug covers on all outlets.
  • Unplug all electrical items that are in your child's reach.
  • Use extra caution when using electrical items in areas where water sources are nearby.

    For example, be safe when using a hair dryer in the bathroom.

  • Don't let your child play with toys that must be plugged into an electrical outlet.
  • Take your child indoors and close all windows and doors during an electrical storm.
  • Don't overload electrical outlets by using too many extension cords or electrical receptacle multipliers.
  • Replace electrical equipment and appliances that show signs of wear.

    Check wires to see if they are loose or frayed.

How can you care for yourself when you have a chemical burn?

When a chemical burn occurs, find out what chemical caused the burn. Call a Poison Control Center right away for more information about how to treat the burn. When you call the Poison Control Center, have the chemical container with you, so you can read the contents label to the Poison Control staff member. Then call your doctor if needed.

Most chemical burns are treated first by rinsing (flushing) the chemical off your body with a large amount of water. But not all chemicals are treated this way. It's important to treat the burn correctly to avoid further problems.

What causes chemical burns?

Most chemical burns are caused by:

  • Acids, such as battery acid, toilet bowl cleaners, or artificial nail primers.
  • Alkalis, such as paint removers, lime, dishwasher powders, or lye. Alkalis usually cause more tissue damage than acids.
  • Metals, such as molten metal compounds used in foundries.
  • Hydrocarbons, such as gasoline or hot tar.

Air bags that inflate can cause friction or heat (thermal) burns from the physical impact. They can also cause chemical burns from the substances in the air bags.

Chemical burns in children: When to call

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your child's pain gets worse.
  • Your child has symptoms of infection, such as:
    • Increased pain, swelling, warmth, or redness.
    • Red streaks leading from the burn.
    • Pus draining from the burn.
    • A fever.

Watch closely for changes in your child's health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • The burn is not getting better each day.

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The content above contains general health information provided by Healthwise, Incorporated, and reviewed by its medical experts. This content should not replace the advice of your healthcare provider. Not all treatments or services described are offered as services by us. For recommended treatments, please consult your healthcare provider.

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