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:
Any exposure to an electrical current is a risk factor for electrical burns.
Symptoms may include:
If you experience any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to an electrical burn. These symptoms may be caused by other, less serious health conditions. If you experience any one of them, consult a doctor.
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 three 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 paramedics. 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.
If you are diagnosed with an electrical burn, follow your doctor's instructions.
To help reduce your chances of an electric burn, take the following steps:
Burn Prevention Foundations
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Family Doctor. Fire safety. Family Doctor.org website. Available at:
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Accessed October 20, 2010.
Last reviewed December 2013 by Marcin Chwistek, MD
Last Updated: 1/15/2014