Chemical burns are dangerous burn injuries that can happen at home and work. From children and adults burned by cleaning products, such as bleach, to factory workers burned by chemical substances, Burn and Reconstructive Centers of America’s (BRCA) nationwide healthcare teams are experienced in neutralizing chemical agents, treating severe burn injuries and recovering form and function through our comprehensive reconstruction services. However, burn care begins immediately after the burn injury with pre-hospital care, and there are steps you can take at home to help reduce the risk and damage of chemicals like bleach.
What is bleach?
Commonly known as bleach, this cleaning agent is a chemical called sodium hypochlorite (NaOCl). It is a strong alkaline cleaning product with a pH of 11 to 13. Most bleach products contain diluted sodium hypochlorite. For example, ordinary household bleach can have anywhere from 3% to 7% sodium hypochlorite, depending on the formula used by the specific companies that produce bleach. However, even at these diluted levels, sodium hypochlorite can be highly detrimental to your health if inhaled, ingested or touched.
What can happen if you inhale, ingest or come into contact with bleach?
Ingesting bleach or bleach products is a medical emergency, and you should seek help as soon as possible. Immediately call 911 and contact poison control.
Bleach is a highly corrosive substance with chlorine components and tendencies. It is important to wear a face mask or work in a well-ventilated area to avoid inhaling chlorine gas when using bleach. Inhaling chlorine gas from bleach can cause throat irritation or trouble breathing for those with asthma. Serious medical complications can occur at higher doses or after prolonged exposure, including pulmonary edema and more.
Commonly accidentally ingested by children, bleach can cause a medical emergency upon accidental ingestion for both children and adults. Unintentional or intentional ingestion of bleach or bleach products can result in death, and also can cause a sore throat, nausea, vomiting, difficulty swallowing, etc.
Furthermore, bleach can incur severe skin irritation and chemical burns. A chemical burn occurs when an external agent (chemical) causes tissue irritation or damage due to direct contact. Chemical burns can occur when in contact with the skin or the eyes. Bleach in the eyes may not only cause chemical burns but temporary or permanent blindness.
Chemicals should never be transferred out of their original containers into unmarked containers. This can increase the risk of confusion and accidents.
What are the signs and symptoms of a chemical burn from bleach?
Unlike thermal burns, a chemical burn from bleach can take hours to develop fully. As the bleach remains on the skin, the burn will continue to progress. Because of this, it is vital to notice the signs and symptoms of a chemical burn early to lessen the severity of the injuries. The signs and symptoms of a chemical burn from bleach include:
What should you do if you inhale, ingest or come into contact with bleach?
If you inhale bleach fumes for an extended period and begin to feel lightheaded, dizzy, nauseous or short of breath, remove yourself from the area. Go outside and sit down while taking deep, slow breaths. If the symptoms do not lessen or actively worsen after a few minutes, please seek medical attention.
If you ingest bleach or other chemical products, you should consider this a medical emergency. Do not induce vomiting as this may cause more damage to the esophagus. You should seek medical attention immediately and contact poison control at (800) 222-1222.
If bleach comes into contact with your skin, remove all clothing that may have come into contact with the chemical. Rinse the affected area with water for at least 10 minutes before washing the area with water. If the burning sensation persists or the injury is severe, seek medical attention as you should never try to neutralize a chemical at home. Attempting to neutralize a chemical on your own may result in more severe injury or other complications.
If bleach splashes into your eyes, remove any clothes that came into contact with the chemical solution. Take off any jewelry that came into contact with the solution. If applicable, remove the contact lenses from the affected eye or eyes. Then, rinse your eyes with a saline eye solution/eyewash or water for a minimum of 10 minutes. Do not rub your eyes. Do not put anything in your eyes other than water or eyewash. Once you have finished rinsing your eyes, seek medical attention immediately.
NEVER MIX BLEACH AND AMMONIA, this releases chlorine gas, which is deadly.
When should you call a doctor?
Bleach and other cleaning products can be corrosive and lethal. You should consult a doctor if:
- You experience a second-degree burn bigger than the palm of your hand
- The burn appears deep or progressing into a third-degree burn
- The bleach has entered your eye or eyes
- The burns interfere with your function, such as on your feet, hands or joints
- The burns are on areas of concern such as your face or genitalia
If you suffer a minor first-degree burn or a small burn, be watchful of the area for these signs of infection:
- Growing redness around the area
- Wound discharge
- A foul odor
How can you help prevent chemical burns from bleach?
While using bleach or chemical cleaning products, it is essential to take the following precautions to help prevent chemical burns:
- Wear gloves
- Wear a face mask
- Wear eye protection
- Keep chemicals in their original containers
- Keep chemicals locked up or safely out of reach of children
- Do not dispose of chemical containers in easily accessible trash cans
- Dilute the bleach
- Never mix bleach with other chemicals
- Only work in a well-ventilated area
- Always read the label before working with the chemical agent
For more information about chemical burns, please visit our website at burncenters.com or click here. If you are suffering from a chemical burn, please don’t wait to seek help. Call our experts 24/7 at (855) 863-9595 for all your non-emergent needs. For emergencies, please call 911 or, if a toxic chemical has been ingested, call the Poison Control Hotline at (800) 222-1222.
For information on battery acid burns, please click here.