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A chemical burn occurs when your skin or eyes come into contact with an irritant, such as an acid or a base. Bases are described as alkaline. Chemical burns are also known as caustic burns. They may cause a reaction on your skin or within your body. These burns can affect your internal organs if chemicals are swallowed.
You should immediately check your mouth for cuts or burns if you swallow a chemical. You should also call a local poison control center or go to the emergency room right away if you swallow a chemical.
Call 911 if someone you know has a chemical burn and is unconscious.
Acids and bases cause most chemical burns. Burns caused by chemicals can happen at school, work, or any place where you handle chemical materials. Some of the most common products that cause chemical burns are:
People who are at the highest risk for chemical burns are infants, older adults, and people who are disabled. These groups may not be able to handle chemicals properly. You may be at increased risk for chemical burns if you’re handling acids or other chemicals without assistance and you have decreased mobility.
The symptoms of chemical burns can vary depending on how the burn occurred. A burn caused by a chemical you swallowed will cause different symptoms than burns that occur on your skin. The symptoms of a chemical burn will depend on:
For example, if the chemical was alkaline and you swallowed it, it will cause burns on the inside of your stomach. This may produce different symptoms than a chemical burn on your skin.
In general, however, the common symptoms associated with chemical burns include:
Some of the following symptoms may also occur if you’ve swallowed a chemical:
Your doctor will make a diagnosis based on several factors. These may include:
Your doctor will classify the burn according to the extent of the injury and the depth of the burn itself:
First aid should be given to chemical burns immediately if possible. This includes removing the chemical that caused the burn and rinsing the skin under running water for 10 to 20 minutes. If a chemical came into contact with your eyes, rinse your eyes continuously for at least 20 minutes before seeking emergency care.
Remove any clothing or jewelry contaminated by the chemical. Wrap the burned area loosely with a dry sterile dressing or a clean cloth if possible. If the burn is superficial, you can take an over-the-counter (OTC) pain reliever, such as aspirin. You should go to the emergency room immediately if the burn is more serious.
You should also go to the hospital right away if:
Depending on the severity of your condition, your doctor may use the following methods to treat your burn:
You’ll need burn rehabilitation if you’re severely burned. This type of rehabilitation may provide some of the following treatments:
The outlook depends on the severity of the burn. Minor chemical burns tend to heal fairly quickly with the appropriate treatment. More severe burns, however, may require long-term treatment. In this case, your doctor may recommend that you receive care at a specialized burn center.
Some people who’ve experienced severe chemical burns may have complications, including:
Most people with severe chemical burns will recover if they have the proper treatment and rehabilitation.
You can prevent chemical burns by following safety procedures and taking precautions while handling chemical materials. These include:
Call a poison control center if you’re unsure whether a certain substance is toxic.
Written by: Elly Dock and Jennifer Nelson
Medically reviewed on: Dec 14, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
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