An electrical burn typically occurs once an individual is exposed directly to an electric current. Even though some electrical burns appear minor on the skin, they can cause extensive damage internally, especially to the muscles, heart or the brain. Always remember that this is potentially serious and requires immediate emergency care.
Causes of electrical burns
In most cases, electrical burns can be due to accidental contact with parts of electrical appliances that are exposed, especially the wiring. The following are the common causes of electrical burns.
- Young children biting on electrical cords
- Plugged-in appliances dropped into water
- Pushing metal objects into electrical sockets or appliances
- The power supply was not properly shut down before attempting home repairs or installation involving electrical appliances
- Lightning strike
- Occupational accidents in the workplace
Who are at risk for electrical burns?
Any exposure to an electrical current poses a risk for getting an electrical burn whether at home or in the workplace.
Symptoms of electrical burns
- Muscle pain or contraction
- Visible burns on the skin
- Bone fractures
- Low blood pressure
- Heart arrhythmias
If the individual experiences any of these symptoms, do not always assume that they are caused by an electrical burn. These symptoms might be caused by other underlying health issues. If the individual experiences any one of these symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor. Take note that electricity can also cause cardiac arrest, unconsciousness and respiratory failure.
Diagnosing an electrical burn
The doctor will ask the individual about the symptoms and medical history as well as perform a physical examination. Just like other burns, electrical burns also have three degrees of severity that have their own distinctive symptoms.
For first degree burns, the injury only involves the exterior skin layer. The affected area is red and painful with some swelling. The skin turns white if touched.
Second degree burns are deeper and severe with blisters while the skin is very red in color or splotchy in appearance. The swelling can be more severe.
Third degree burns involves all the skin layers and tissues. The burned skin appears white or charred and there is little or no pain since the nerves in the skin are destroyed.
It can be difficult to diagnose damage beneath the skin caused by electricity but certain tests can be performed such as EKG to check any rhythm disturbances in the heart and the urine and blood tests to determine if there is severe damage to the muscles.
Treatment for electrical burns
Electrical burns need immediate care. If possible, you have to turn off the electrical current from the source. In most cases, simply turning off the appliance will not stop the flow of electricity.
In case the current could not be turned off, you have to use a non-conducting object such as a chair, rug, wooden broom or rubber objects to push the individual away from the source of the current. Do not use metal or wet objects since you will also end up electrocuted. If possible, you have to stand on a dry and non-conducting surface such as folded newspapers or a mat.
Once the individual is out of contact from the source of electricity, immediately check the airway, breathing and circulation. If required, perform CPR. Cover the individual with a blanket to maintain body heat while keeping the feet elevated above the head.