Chemical burns must be treated as a medical emergency. This is because many chemicals commonly used at home, school, or work can cause severe burns to the skin and may cause deeper burns than they look. The severity of burns will depend on the type of chemical, how long it is in contact with the skin, and how strong the chemical is. If you see someone having a chemical burn, washing the chemical off as quickly as possible with large amounts of water is vital. Here are other things that you should know about chemical burns.
What is Chemical Burn?
Chemical burns are tissue damage due to a harsh or corrosive substance. Usually, most people are aware of such a burn and its cause. But sometimes, you may not immediately recognize it if a milder chemical substance causes it. Unlike heat burns, chemical toxins can continue causing tissue damage even after you come into contact with them. Therefore, immediate medical attention is essential to prevent scarring or complications. The damage may develop hours after exposure. Major chemical burns need emergency medical help, while you can usually treat minor chemical burns with first aid.
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:
- Concrete mix
- Pool chlorinators
- Phosphorous (found in fireworks and fertilizers)
- Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
- Metal cleaners
What Are the Symptoms of Chemical Burn?
The 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
- Blackened skin
For Severe Chemical Injury, the Symptoms Are:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Dizziness and faintness
- Low blood pressure
- Heart attack
First Aid for Chemical Burns
You probably won’t be admitted to the hospital if you have a minor chemical burn. However, you should follow your doctor’s instructions to keep the wound clean and prevent it from drying. In addition, your doctor will advise you on appropriate pain relief and what creams and dressings should be applied. If you have a burn injury caused by chemicals, take these steps immediately:
1. Dial 911 or the local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
2. Put on gloves and brush off any remaining dry chemicals. Avoid exposing yourself to chemicals.
3. Remove contaminated clothing or jewelry and rinse the area with cool water for at least 20 minutes. Flood area or until help from the emergency department arrives.
4. Don’t use a strong stream of water, if possible; make sure water doesn’t flow onto another part of the person’s body or you.
5. After flushing the burn, follow instructions on the label of the chemical product, if available.
6. Don’t try to neutralize the burn with acid or alkali because it could cause a chemical reaction that worsens the burn.
7. Don’t put antibiotic ointment on the burn.
8. Cover the burn with a clean cloth or bandage. Do not wrap it tightly to avoid putting pressure on the damaged skin.
9. If you feel more burning, rinse it again with large amounts of water for several more minutes.
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When to Seek Emergency Medical Care?
The severe chemical injury will need medical attention and emergency treatment in the hospital to control the pain and prevent infection. 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.
It’s crucial to seek immediate medical treatment for severe chemical burns, which are deep, involving all layers of the skin, more extensive than 3 inches in diameter, and if the burn covers the hands, feet, face, or a major joint or encircles an arm or leg. It might cause shock, with symptoms such as cool, clammy skin, weak pulse, and shallow breathing.
In some cases of severe burns, patients may need surgery to remove the burned portion of their skin. In addition, some may need a skin graft, where a surgeon takes healthy skin on your body and attaches it to the burned area. This surgery can also repair perforations in your gastrointestinal tract.
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How to Prevent Chemical Burn?
- Wash hands after using products with chemicals.
- Follow the instructions correctly when using products containing chemicals.
- Always wear protective equipment such as safety gloves and eye protection when handling chemicals.
- Avoid mixing products that contain toxic chemicals such as ammonia and bleach.
- Take note of any chemical container or label warnings and ensure you understand them.
- Make sure all containers containing dangerous chemicals are labeled.
- Products containing chemicals must be stored in a safe place, out of the reach of children.
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Chemical burns can happen if you are exposed to chemicals or other harsh substances for your job. People, especially children, can also get burns if they accidentally touch or swallow certain household chemicals. You should seek medical attention from your healthcare provider for any burns involving chemicals, even if it seems mild.