What is electrical shock and burns?

Using immediate first aid for burns

If you think that you might have a severe burn, use these first-aid measures while you arrange to be seen by your doctor.

  • First, stop the burning to prevent a more severe burn.
    Heat burns (thermal burns).

    Smother any flames by covering them with a blanket or water. If your clothing catches fire, don't run. Stop, drop, and roll on the ground to smother the flames.

    Cold temperature burns.

    Try to warm the areas. Small areas of your body (ears, face, nose, fingers, toes) that are really cold or frozen can be warmed by blowing warm air on them, tucking them inside your clothing, or putting them in warm water. Don't rub or massage frozen skin.

    Liquid scald burns (thermal burns).

    Run cool tap water over the burn for 10 to 20 minutes. Don't use ice.

    Electrical burns.

    After the person has been separated from the electrical source, check for breathing and a heartbeat. If the person isn't breathing or doesn't have a heartbeat, call 911.

    Chemical burns.

    When a chemical burn occurs, find out what chemical caused the burn. Call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) for more information about how to treat the burn. Natural foods such as chili peppers, which contain a substance that irritates the skin, can cause a burning sensation.

    Tar or hot plastic burns.

    Run cold water over the hot tar or hot plastic right away. It will cool the tar or plastic.

  • Next, look for other injuries. The burn may not be the only injury.
  • Remove any jewelry or clothing at the site of the burn.

    If clothing is stuck to the burn, don't remove it. Carefully cut around the stuck fabric to remove loose fabric. Remove all jewelry, because it may be hard to remove it later if swelling occurs.

  • Prepare to be seen by a doctor.

    If you are going to see your doctor soon:

    • Cover the burn with a clean, dry cloth to reduce the risk of infection.
    • Don't put any salve or medicine on the burned area, so your doctor can properly assess your burn.
    • Don't put ice on the burned area. It doesn't help, and it can damage the skin tissue.

How does an electrical shock or burn affect you?

When you touch a light switch to turn on a light, you may receive a minor electrical shock. You may feel tingling in your hand or arm. Usually, this tingling goes away in a few minutes. If you do not have damage to the skin or other symptoms, there is no reason to worry.

If your skin is burned by electricity, there is cause for concern. Electrical burns may look minor at first. But the burn may be more serious if tissues along the path of the electrical current are damaged. All the damage from these burns might not be seen for up to 10 days after the burn. There might be burns where the electrical current enters the body and also where it leaves the body.

When electricity passes though your body, the electricity may injure blood vessels, nerves, and muscles. The electrical current may cause rapid and severe swelling in the throat and lungs, making it hard for a person to breathe. As the electrical current passes through the heart muscle, heartbeat problems can develop.

Electricity passing through your body can be powerful enough to cause a fall. This can cause other injuries such as fractures. Electricity can also cause strong muscle contractions that can cause injury.

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