Chemical burns can happen anywhere from work, at home or even at school. With more than 30,000 chemicals, chemical burns account for 5% of all burn admissions.

While most chemical burn injuries tend to come from a workplace accident, these injuries can happen from misusing skin, hair and nail products, household cleaners, do-it-yourself projects or more malicious instances of assault.

What is a chemical burn?

A chemical burn occurs when an external agent (chemical) causes tissue irritation or damage as a result of direct contact. Most chemical burns are caused by either strong acids or strong bases, with prolonged exposure leading to severe injuries, scarring, disability or worse.

What are some common agents?

  • Hydrochloric acid or muriatic acid
  • Formic acid
  • Chromic acid
  • Hydrofluoric acid
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • Potassium hydroxide

Where are these found?

You can find any number of the above agents in household cleaners, pool cleaners, yard materials, bleach or metal cleaners, to name a few.

Signs and symptoms of a chemical burn

All chemical burns should be considered as potential medical emergencies.

The face, eyes, hands, arms and legs are most often affected by chemical burns, but inhalation of some chemicals can also result in an injury. The amount of tissue damage from an agent depends on a number of factors, including:

  • Strength or concentration of agent
  • Where the chemical had direct contact (skin, eyes, mouth, etc.)
  • Was the agent ingested, swallowed or inhaled
  • Amount of agent you came into contact with
  • Length of exposure to agent

Questions to ask:

  • What was the agent?
  • How did exposure occur?
  • What was the duration of contact?
  • Was there an explosion?
  • What is the toxicity of the agent?
  • What decontamination occurred?

Some visual signs and symptoms might include:

  • Blisters or black skin at the site of contact
  • Redness, irritation or a burning sensation at the site of contact
  • Pain or numbness at the site of contact
  • Vision changes or loss if agent was in direct contact with eyes
  • Cough or shortness of breath

What should I do if I have a chemical burn?

  • Remove all clothing
  • Do not use water on powder, as this could create a new caustic agent.
  • Irrigate
    • Strong chemicals can contaminate large quantities of water (10ml of 98% sulfuric acid will reduce the pH of 12 liters of water to a pH of 5)
  • DO NOT TRY TO NEUTRALIZE

For more information on chemical burns or how to treat them, contact Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America at 855-863-9595. If you’re a healthcare provider looking to refer a patient, check out our referral process and how we’re able to assess and create a care plan in minutes.