Chemical Burn Overview
Chemical burns can occur in the home, at work or school, and as a result of accident or assault. Although few people in the United States die after contact with chemicals in the home, many substances common in both living and storage areas can do serious harm.
Many chemical burns occur accidentally through misuse of products such as those for hair, skin, and nail care. Although injuries do occur at home, the risk of sustaining a chemical burn is much greater in the workplace, especially in businesses and manufacturing plants that use large quantities of chemicals.
Chemical Burn Causes
Most chemicals that cause burns are either strong acids or bases. A glance at the medical information on the labels of dangerous chemicals confirms the expected toxicity. Common sense precautions and consumer education can reduce your family's risk of injury. A variety of household products fits this description:
- Concrete mix
- Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
- Metal cleaners
- Pool chlorinators
Chemical Burn Symptoms
All chemical burns should be considered medical emergencies.
If you have a chemical burn of the mouth or throat, call 911 and seek immediate medical attention.
Most chemical burns occur on the face, eyes, and arms and legs. Usually a chemical burn will be relatively small and will require only outpatient treatment. Chemical burns can be deceiving, however. Some agents can cause deep tissue damage not readily apparent when you first look at it.
- Tissue damage from chemical burns depends on several factors.
- The strength or concentration of the agent
- The site of contact (eye, skin, mucous membrane)
- Whether swallowed or inhaled
- Whether or not skin is intact
- With how much of the agent you came into contact
- The duration of exposure
- How the chemical works
- Signs and symptoms of chemical burns include the following:
- Redness, irritation, or burning at the site of contact
- Pain or numbness at the site of contact
- Formation of blisters or black dead skin at the contact site
- Vision changes if the chemical gets into your eyes
- Cough or shortness of breath
- In severe cases, you may develop any of the following:
- Low blood pressure
- Faintness, weakness, dizziness
- Shortness of breath or severe cough
- Muscle twitching or seizures
- Cardiac arrest or irregular heartbeat
- Chemical burns can be very unpredictable. Death from a chemical injury, although rare, can occur.
When to Seek Medical Care
Once all immediate danger has passed and you have completed basic first aid, call your doctor to review your injury and the chemical involved to make sure you need no further emergency treatment. Your doctor can arrange appropriate treatment or will direct you to go to a hospital's Emergency Department.
Any chemical burn can be a legitimate reason to summon emergency medical help. Always err on the side of safety and call 911 if you don't know the severity of the injury, medical stability of the person injured, or if you have any concerns about a chemical injury.