Chemical Burns: First Aid Treatment and Prevention Tips

Chemical burns are injuries caused by exposure to corrosive substances, such as acids, bases, solvents, or strong cleaning agents. These burns can be extremely painful and can result in serious tissue damage if not treated promptly and correctly. Immediate first aid is crucial to minimize the extent of injury and prevent complications. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the importance of chemical burns first aid and provide step-by-step instructions on administering proper care.

Chemical burns can be extremely painful and potentially dangerous injuries that require immediate first aid. Proper first aid for chemical burns can help minimize the damage and reduce the risk of complications. Here are the steps to follow if you encounter someone with a chemical burn:

  1. Ensure Safety: Before approaching the victim, make sure the area is safe and free from any ongoing chemical exposure.
  2. Remove the Chemical Source: If the chemical is still in contact with the victim's skin, carefully and quickly remove any contaminated clothing or jewelry.
  3. Flush with Water: Immediately begin flushing the affected area with lukewarm, clean, running water. Use a gentle, continuous stream for at least 20 minutes.
  4. Apply a Sterile Dressing: After rinsing with water, apply a sterile, non-stick dressing or a clean, dry cloth to cover the burn area. Do not pop blisters, as they serve as a protective barrier.
  5. Elevate the Burned Area: If possible, elevate the affected limb or body part to reduce swelling.
  6. Administer Pain Relief: Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation.

chemical burns

Ensure Safety

Ensuring safety is the first and foremost consideration when dealing with a chemical burn. Before approaching the victim, it is imperative to assess the situation to ensure there is no ongoing chemical exposure. This includes confirming that the source of the chemical is no longer active or leaking. Furthermore, it is essential to wear the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE) to safeguard yourself from potential chemical exposure. PPE typically includes gloves, eye protection, and a lab coat or apron.


Remove the Chemical Source

Swiftly and carefully removing any clothing or jewelry that may have come into contact with the chemical is the next crucial step. Delicate handling is essential to avoid causing additional damage to the affected skin. In cases where the chemical is still on the skin, it is imperative to remove it promptly to halt the burning process. It is crucial to refrain from touching the chemical with bare hands and instead use a clean, uncontaminated object, such as a gloved hand, cloth, or towel, to assist with removal.


Flush with Water

Immediate and continuous flushing of the affected area with lukewarm, clean, running water is important. Running water is preferred because it aids in diluting and effectively removing the chemical from the skin. The affected area should be thoroughly rinsed with a gentle, continuous stream of water for at least 20 minutes. It is essential to ensure that all parts of the affected area are adequately and consistently flushed. When dealing with chemical exposure to the eyes, use an eyewash station or a clean cup of water. Ensure that the victim's eyelids are held open with fingers while gently flushing the eyes with water for at least 20 minutes, directing the flow away from the unaffected eye.


Apply a Sterile Dressing

For first-degree or minor second-degree burns, applying a sterile, non-stick dressing or a clean, dry cloth to cover the burn area is recommended after flushing with water. Ensuring the dressing does not adhere to the wound is essential. It is crucial to refrain from popping any blisters, as they serve as a protective barrier against infection. Instead, intact blisters should be covered with a sterile dressing.


Elevate the Burned Area

If possible, gently elevating the burned limb or affected body part can assist in reducing swelling. This elevation minimizes fluid buildup in the injured area, promoting comfort and aiding in the healing process.


Administer Pain Relief

Over-the-counter pain relievers like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can be administered to the victim following recommended dosage instructions. These medications can help alleviate pain and reduce inflammation, contributing to the victim's comfort.


chemical burns

Who Are at Risk of Chemical Burns?

Workers exposed to chemicals for their jobs, such as construction and factory workers, farmers, laboratory technicians, mechanics, and plumbers, are at high risk of chemical burns. Infants and children are also at risk of chemical burns since they may accidentally touch or swallow chemicals in the house like detergents, bleach, or cleaning products.

Burns from chemicals often happen by accident at home or in the workplace, but sometimes, they can also result from an assault or self-harm. They are most likely to affect the eye surface, face, limbs, hands, or feet. For instances of self-harm, chemicals can also burn you inside if swallowed.

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What Causes Chemical Burn?

Most chemical burns are caused by strong acids such as sulfuric acid, muriatic acid, or strong bases, which you can find in products such as:

  • Petrol
  • Concrete mix
  • Pool chlorinators
  • Phosphorous (found in fireworks and fertilizers)
  • Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
  • Metal cleaners
  • Bleach


What Are the Symptoms of Chemical Burn?

Symptoms of a chemical burn are similar to a burn caused by sunburn or heat. A burn to the eye can cause vision problems, and a burn to the lungs can cause coughing or shortness of breath. Other common symptoms include:


  • Redness and burning in the skin
  • Pain or numbness
  • Blisters
  • Blackened skin


For Severe Chemical Burns, the Symptoms Are:

  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Dizziness and faintness
  • Headache
  • Seizure
  • Low blood pressure
  • Heart attack


How to treat sulfuric acid burns?

Sulfuric acid burns are particularly dangerous due to the strong corrosive properties of the acid. When dealing with sulfuric acid burns, the first step is to prioritize safety by wearing protective gear, including gloves and eye protection, before attempting any treatment.

  • Quickly flush the affected area with cool, running water for a minimum of 30 minutes, as sulfuric acid can continue to react with the skin.
  • Remove any contaminated clothing or jewelry and avoid applying creams or ointments.
  • Cover the burn with a clean, non-stick bandage or sterile gauze, and seek immediate medical attention.
  • Sulfuric acid burns can cause severe injury and tissue damage. Professional evaluation and treatment are essential to minimize long-term complications.


How to treat chemical burns on the face?

The face is highly vascular, and burns in this area can lead to significant complications, so professional assessment and treatment are crucial to minimize scarring and functional impairment. Treating a chemical burn on the face requires special care due to the sensitive nature of facial skin.

  • First, ensure safety by wearing gloves and immediately flush the affected area with cool, running water for at least 20 minutes, gently splashing water over the face. Be cautious not to get water into the eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • After rinsing, gently pat the face dry with a clean, sterile cloth. Do not rub the skin.
  • Cover the burn with a clean, non-stick bandage or sterile gauze, and seek immediate medical attention, especially for facial burns.


When to Seek Emergency Medical Care?

Regardless of the burn's initial appearance, seeking professional medical attention is imperative. Even seemingly minor burns can lead to complications or infection if not properly assessed and treated by a healthcare provider. A healthcare professional will evaluate the extent of the injury and offer further guidance on wound care and treatment options, ensuring the best possible outcome for the victim. Healthcare providers also need to manage any problems with breathing or circulation caused by the burn. For example, they will ask you about the type of chemical, how much there was, how long was the contact with the skin, and what medical treatment has been done.


How to Prevent Chemical Burn?

Preventing chemical burns is paramount to ensure the safety of individuals working with or around potentially hazardous chemicals. Here are some essential steps and precautions to help prevent chemical burns:

  1. Know Your Chemicals: Familiarize yourself with the chemicals you work with or may encounter. Understand their properties, hazards, and safe handling procedures. Read material safety data sheets (MSDS) and labels to gain insights into chemical risks.
  2. Use Appropriate Personal Protective Equipment (PPE): Always wear the necessary PPE when working with chemicals. This typically includes gloves, safety goggles or face shields, lab coats or aprons, and, in some cases, respirators or masks. The type of PPE required depends on the specific chemicals and tasks.
  3. Handle Chemicals Safely: Follow proper procedures for storing, transporting, and using chemicals. When transferring chemicals, use equipment designed for that purpose, such as funnels or pumps, and avoid splashing or spills.
  4. Work in a Well-Ventilated Area: Ensure that you are working in a well-ventilated space or use exhaust systems like fume hoods when working with volatile or toxic chemicals. 
  5. Emergency Preparedness: Have an emergency plan in place for chemical spills or accidents. Know the location of emergency eyewash stations, safety showers, fire extinguishers, and first aid kits. 
  6. Proper Storage: Store chemicals in designated storage areas that are well-ventilated, cool, dry, and away from incompatible substances.
  7. Labeling and Hazard Communication: Clearly label all containers with the name of the chemical, its hazards, and handling instructions. Comply with hazard communication regulations, such as the Globally Harmonized System (GHS), to ensure proper labeling and information sharing.
  8. Proper Disposal: Dispose of chemicals correctly and in accordance with local, state, and federal regulations.