Electrical burns and injuries happen when electric currents pass through the body. The currents can damage the skin, tissues, and major organs. The damage can range from minor to severe. Sometimes it is fatal.
Electrical burns and injuries are caused by contact with electrical currents. The currents may come from appliances, exposed wiring, or lightning strikes.
Things that raise the risk are:
- Having a job with exposure to electric currents
- Working outdoors
- Being outside during thunderstorms
- Working with electric systems or appliances without proper training
Symptoms depend on the amount of electricity and length of exposure.
Symptoms may be:
- Severe muscle spasms
- Numbness or tingling
- Weakness or lightheadedness
- Burns on the skin
- Heart pounding or fluttering from heart arrhythmias
Electric shock can also cause the lungs and heart to stop working.
Diagnosis is based on events and symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
The doctor will look at the skin. Burns will be diagnosed based on how severe they are:
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The doctor will want to check for damage under the skin. Tests may include:
Electrical burns and injuries need care right away. Treatment will depend on how bad the injuries are.
Less severe symptoms may only need to be watched. Minor burns will be treated with ointments and dressings.
Severe shocks and injuries need emergency care. This may include:
To reduce the risk of electrical burns and injuries:
- Use child safety plugs in all outlets.
- Keep electric cords out of children's reach.
- Follow safety instructions when using electric appliances.
- Avoid being out in lightning storms.
- Follow safety instructions at work.
American Burn Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
Canadian Burn Survivors Community
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Gentges J, Schieche C. Electrical injuries in the emergency department: an evidence-based review. Emerg Med Pract. 2018;20(11):1-20.
Preventing house fires. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/fire.html. Accessed March 3. 2021.
Lightning injuries. Merck Manual Professional Version website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries-poisoning/electrical-and-lightning-injuries/lightning-injuries. Accessed March 3, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Marcin Chwistek, MD Last Updated: 3/3/2021