Electrical burns occur when a person is directly exposed to an electrical current. Although some electrical burns look minor on the skin, they can cause extensive internal damage, especially to the heart, muscles, or brain. This is a potentially serious condition that requires care from a doctor.
Classification of Skin Burns
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Electrical burns result from accidental contact with exposed parts of electrical appliances or wiring, such as:
Electrical burns may cause:
Electricity can also cause cardiac arrest, respiratory failure, and/or unconsciousness.
Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history, and do a physical exam.
Like other burns, electrical burns have 3 degrees of severity, each with distinctive symptoms:
It may be more difficult to diagnosis damage under the skin caused by electricity. Tests may include:
Electrical burns require an immediate call to emergency medical services. If possible, shut off the electrical current from its source (such as unplugging a cord or turning off the circuit breaker). Often, simply turning off the appliance itself will not stop the flow of electricity.
If the current can't be turned off, use a nonconducting object, like a wooden broom, chair, rug, or rubber doormat to push the victim away from the source of the current. Don't use a wet or metal object. If possible, stand on something dry and non-conducting, such as a mat or folded newspapers.
Do not attempt to rescue a victim near active high-voltage lines.
Once the victim is free from the source of electricity, check airway, breathing, and pulse and, if needed, start cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) efforts. The victim is covered with a blanket to maintain body heat and feet are raised above the head.
Ice, butter, or ointments, should not be applied.
Anyone with an electrical burn should be taken to the hospital for further evaluation. Treatment will depend on the severity of the burn and any other associated complications.
To help reduce your chances of an electric burn, take the following steps:
Burn Prevention Network
Safe Kids Worldwide
Browne BJ, Gaasch WR. Electrical injuries and lightning. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 1992;10:211.
Cawley JC, Homce GT. Occupational electrical injuries in the United States, 1992-1998, and recommendations for safety research. J Safety Res. 2003;34:241.
Cooper MA. Electrical and lightning injuries. Emerg Med Clin North Am. 1984; 2:489.
Electrical injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 26, 2013. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Fire safety. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid_safe/home/fire.html. Updated July 2011. Accessed November 3, 2014.
Last reviewed November 2014 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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