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Chemical burn or reaction

Burn from chemicals

Chemicals that touch skin can lead to a reaction on the skin, throughout the body, or both.

Considerations

Chemical exposure is not always obvious. You should suspect chemical exposure if an otherwise healthy person becomes ill for no apparent reason, particularly if an empty chemical container is found nearby.

Exposure to chemicals at work over a long period of time can cause changing symptoms as the chemical builds up in the person's body.

If the person has a chemical in the eyes, see first aid for eye emergencies.

If the person has swallowed or inhaled a dangerous chemical, call a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Symptoms

Depending on the type of exposure, the symptoms may include:

First Aid

  • Make sure the cause of the burn has been removed. Try not to come in contact with it yourself. If the chemical is dry, brush off any excess. Avoid brushing it into your eyes. Remove any clothing and jewelry.
  • Flush the chemicals off the skin surface using cool running water for 15 minutes or more UNLESS the chemical exposure is to dry lime (calcium oxide, also called 'quick lime') or to elemental metals such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and lithium.
  • Treat the person for shock if they appear faint, pale, or if there is shallow, rapid breathing.
  • Apply cool, wet compresses to relieve pain.
  • Wrap the burned area with a dry sterile dressing (if possible) or clean cloth. Protect the burned area from pressure and friction.
  • Minor chemical burns will most often heal without further treatment. However, if there is a second or third degree burn or if there is an overall body reaction, get medical help right away. In severe cases, don't leave the person alone and watch carefully for reactions affecting the entire body.

Note: If a chemical gets into the eyes, the eyes should be flushed with water right away. Continue to flush the eyes with running water for at least 15 minutes. Get medical help right away.

Do Not

  • DO NOT apply any household remedy such as ointment or salve to a chemical burn.
  • DO NOT become contaminated by the chemical as you give first aid.
  • DO NOT disturb a blister or remove dead skin from a chemical burn.
  • DO NOT try to neutralize any chemical without consulting the poison control center or a doctor.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for medical help right away if the person is having difficulty breathing, is having seizures, or is unconscious.

Prevention

  • All chemicals should be stored out of the reach of young children -- preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Avoid mixing different products that contain toxic chemicals such as ammonia and bleach. The mixture can give off hazardous fumes.
  • Avoid prolonged (even low-level) exposure to chemicals.
  • Avoid using potentially toxic substances in the kitchen or around food.
  • Buy potentially poisonous substance in safety containers, and buy only as much as needed.
  • Many household products are made of toxic chemicals. It is important to read and follow label instructions, including any precautions.
  • Never store household products in food or drink containers. Leave them in their original containers with the labels intact.
  • Safely store chemicals immediately after use.
  • Use paints, petroleum products, ammonia, bleach, and other products that give off fumes only in a well-ventilated area.

References

Levine MD. Chemical injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 57.

Mazzeo AS, Price LA, Gerold KB. Burn care procedures. In: Roberts JR, ed. Roberts and Hedges' Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 38.

  • Burns

    Burns - illustration

    The depth of a burn determines its severity. First degree burns damage the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and cause pain, redness and swelling (erythema). Second degree burns damage the epidermis and the inner layer, the dermis, causing erythema and blistering. Damage from third degree burns extend into the hypodermis, causing destruction of the full thickness of skin with its nerve supply (numbness). Third degree burns leave scars and may cause loss of function and/or sensation.

    Burns

    illustration

  • First aid kit

    First aid kit - illustration

    The essentials of a good first aid kit include a variety of bandages, medications, and equipment to stabilize injuries until proper medical attention can be administered.

    First aid kit

    illustration

  • Skin layers

    Skin layers - illustration

    The skin is the largest organ of the body. The skin and its derivatives (hair, nails, sweat and oil glands) make up the integumentary system. One of the main functions of the skin is protection. It protects the body from external factors such as bacteria, chemicals, and temperature. The skin contains secretions that can kill bacteria and the pigment melanin provides a chemical pigment defense against ultraviolet light that can damage skin cells. Another important function of the skin is body temperature regulation. When the skin is exposed to a cold temperature, the blood vessels in the dermis constrict. This allows the blood which is warm, to bypass the skin. The skin then becomes the temperature of the cold it is exposed to. Body heat is conserved since the blood vessels are not diverting heat to the skin anymore. Among its many functions the skin is an incredible organ always protecting the body from external agents.

    Skin layers

    illustration

    • Burns

      Burns - illustration

      The depth of a burn determines its severity. First degree burns damage the outer layer of skin (epidermis) and cause pain, redness and swelling (erythema). Second degree burns damage the epidermis and the inner layer, the dermis, causing erythema and blistering. Damage from third degree burns extend into the hypodermis, causing destruction of the full thickness of skin with its nerve supply (numbness). Third degree burns leave scars and may cause loss of function and/or sensation.

      Burns

      illustration

    • First aid kit

      First aid kit - illustration

      The essentials of a good first aid kit include a variety of bandages, medications, and equipment to stabilize injuries until proper medical attention can be administered.

      First aid kit

      illustration

    • Skin layers

      Skin layers - illustration

      The skin is the largest organ of the body. The skin and its derivatives (hair, nails, sweat and oil glands) make up the integumentary system. One of the main functions of the skin is protection. It protects the body from external factors such as bacteria, chemicals, and temperature. The skin contains secretions that can kill bacteria and the pigment melanin provides a chemical pigment defense against ultraviolet light that can damage skin cells. Another important function of the skin is body temperature regulation. When the skin is exposed to a cold temperature, the blood vessels in the dermis constrict. This allows the blood which is warm, to bypass the skin. The skin then becomes the temperature of the cold it is exposed to. Body heat is conserved since the blood vessels are not diverting heat to the skin anymore. Among its many functions the skin is an incredible organ always protecting the body from external agents.

      Skin layers

      illustration

    Self Care

     

     

    Review Date: 10/16/2017

    Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services / Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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