Electrical burns and injuries are the result electrical currents passing through the body. Temporary or permanent damage can occur to the skin, tissues, and major organs. Extent of the damage depends on the strength and duration of the electrical current.
Electrical burns and injuries result from accidental contact with exposed parts of electrical appliances, wiring, or lightning strikes.
Appliance or wiring injuries may occur when:
Children bite on electrical cords
Utensils or other metal objects are poked into electrical outlets or appliances, such as a plugged-in toaster
The power supply is not shut down before making home repairs or installation
A plugged-in appliance is dropped into water
Occupational accidents can occur from electric arcs from high-voltage power lines. Electric arcs occur when a burst of electricity jumps from one electrical conductor to another, creating bright flashes.
Electrical burns and injuries will be diagnosed based on events and symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
Like other burns, electrical burns have 3 degrees of severity, each with distinctive symptoms:
—Injury is only to the outer layer of skin. They are red and painful, and may cause some swelling. The skin turns white when touched.
—These burns are deeper and more severe. They cause blisters and the skin is very red or splotchy. There may be more significant swelling.
—These cause damage to all layers of the skin down to the tissue underneath. The burned skin looks white or charred. These burns may cause little or no pain because the nerves in the skin are destroyed.
If possible, cut the power source by throwing a switch or circuit breaker, or unplugging the power. Do not endanger yourself. Call for emergency medical services right away. Treatment will depend on the extent of injuries.
Treatment will depend on the individual's response to the electric shock and what injuries were caused.
Less severe symptoms may only require observation and time to fade. Some symptoms can linger over long periods of time.
Severe shocks that have caused the heart to stop, a loss of consciousness, seizures or severe injury will need emergency help. Emergency response and first aid must be done quickly to restore breathing and prevent further injury or death. Some emergency steps may include:
(CPR)—if the heart has stopped beating, CPR can provide oxygen-rich air to the vital organs of the body until advanced care is reached
Airway and breathing support
IV fluids to restore balance in the body (may not be used for lightning strikes)
Surgery may also be needed to care for deeper burns or repair some wounds.
Some complications from electrical injuries can have a delayed onset. Observation and future testing may be needed for symptoms that develop after the incident. Later complications may arise from heart, kidney, or nerve damage.