Chemical burns are one of the most common burn hazards in the workplace, but they can also happen at any place, at any time. You might not realize how many chemicals you come in contact with on a regular basis that could pose a potential risk as well.
A chemical burn occurs when your skin or eyes come in contact with acidic or alkaline chemicals. Burns can also occur when someone inhales or eats these substances.
To better understand chemical burns, we sought the expertise of Lyndsay Deeter, MD, a burn surgeon and the director of the Western States Burn Center at North Colorado Medical Center.
Common Causes of Chemical Burns
Some of the most common products you might come in contact with at home, work and outside of the home may include:
- chlorine and swimming pool products
- oven cleaner
- paint thinners
- dental cleaners and teeth whitening products
Symptoms of a Chemical Burn
Typically, you’ll be aware of the burn and what caused it, but some of the effects might not be apparent until later.
In general, common symptoms associated with chemical burns include:
- Irritation, redness or burning
- Changes or loss of vision if your eyes came in contact with the chemical
- Pain and numbness
- Skin appears white and pale (seen with alkalotic burns)
Treating a Chemical Burn
If someone experiences a chemical burn, Dr. Deeter recommended the following first-aid steps:
- Check and ensure the area is safe and remove any contaminated clothing and jewelry.
- Brush dry chemicals off the skin with a glove or towel first before flushing.
- Rinse the exposed area right away with running water for at least 20 minutes. This removes the chemical and stops the burning process, which hopefully leads to a less significant injury.
- Cover with a clean, dry dressing that is not too tight. Tight wraps can cause a tourniquet effect as the injury area swells.
- Seek medical attention immediately.
If a chemical splashes in someone’s eyes, rinse their eyes right away and call 911. Continue rinsing until medical help arrives. If they wear contacts, make sure those are removed.
Preventing Chemical Burns at Home
“While many of these types of burns occur in a work-setting, they can definitely occur at home as well,” Dr. Deeter said. “Make sure to follow safety protocols and practices at work and take special care at home to follow safety procedures and take precautions.”
Some of these precautions include:
- Wear appropriate protective equipment
- Keeping chemicals out of reach of children and away from food and drinks
- Storing chemicals properly and safely
- Wear protective gear at all times
- Use chemicals in a well-ventilated area
- Avoid mixing chemicals with other chemicals
- Leave chemicals in their original containers
- Acquaint yourself with the chemicals you’ll be working with at work and at home by reading the labels
- Call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 if you are unsure whether a certain substance is toxic
Seek Immediate Medical Attention
If you’ve suffered a chemical burn, don’t wait.
“All burns should be considered a potential medical emergency,” Dr. Deeter said. “Although the burn may not be readily apparent, it could have caused deep tissue damage.”