You are lying in your bed, wake up, and feel a little sting on your foot. You stand up and realize that you have a chemical burn. Chemical burns can be excruciating and should not be left untreated. Thankfully, most chemical burns can be treated at home with simple home remedies to lessen the pain and avoid infection.
Chemical burns can occur anywhere but are most common on the hands and neck. Chemical burns cause immediate, intense pain and swelling, so it’s essential to identify a chemical burn and seek appropriate care as soon as possible.
These are sometimes one of the most common injuries resulting from an accident. While chemical burns don’t always result from accidents, they can happen when chemicals come into contact with your skin via splashes or spills. This can also occur when products come into contact with your skin but are not designed to be used on your skin.
In this article, we will discuss every detail related to chemical burns and their management and prevention strategies.
What is Chemical Burn?
A chemical burn is a type of burn caused by contact with a strong acid or base. These substances can be in solid, liquid, or gas forms.
Chemical burns are serious injuries that require immediate medical attention. If the chemical gets into the eyes, it causes severe damage to the cornea and conjunctiva, which may lead to blindness. The skin can take days or weeks to heal after exposure to chemicals, and sometimes scarring occurs if the area is not treated correctly.
The severity of a chemical burn depends on the type of chemical and how long it’s been in contact with your skin. For example:
- Acids cause serious tissue damage, while bases cause surface damage.
- Metals such as zinc cause burns that resemble severe sunburns.
Any substance that causes a chemical burn can also cause an allergic reaction in some people. Some people might develop an allergic reaction after using a product several times or even once. Others may never have an allergic reaction from using the same product repeatedly.
The most common symptoms of a chemical burn are redness, blistering, and pain at the site of contact with the skin or eyes. These symptoms may occur quickly or develop over several hours, depending on how vital the substance was and how long you were exposed to it.
There may be no symptoms until hours later when blisters form on your skin or mucous membranes in your mouth, nose, or eyes swell shut, causing difficulty breathing through your nose.
Top 5 Causes a Chemical Burn
There are many causes of chemical burns. Some are accidental, while others are intentional and malicious. Chemical burns can be severe and even life-threatening if not treated quickly.
The following are some common causes of chemical burns:
1. Exposure to Strong Acids or Bases
When acids and bases come in contact with the skin, they can cause chemical burns. Acids cause redness and swelling, while bases cause dryness, pain, itching, and blisters.
2. Exposure to Concentrated Hydrofluoric Acid
Hydrofluoric acid (HF) is a highly corrosive mineral acid that is colorless to yellowish and has a pungent odor similar to ammonia. It is a potent oxidizing agent that reacts violently with water and steam, causing fire hazards upon contact with flammable materials such as paper, wood, etc.
HF burns can be very severe and may lead to death if not treated immediately due to their solid corrosive nature, which damages tissues faster than any other type of burn.
3. Contact with Petroleum Products
This includes gasoline, diesel fuel, and kerosene. The vapors from these products can be very flammable and easily ignite if exposed to a spark or flame. If you get these products on your skin, they can cause burns, irritation, and rashes.
4. Exposure to Alcohols or Solvents
Alcohols such as methanol and ethanol are used to dissolve other substances. These chemicals may cause skin irritation or even burns if you come into contact with them.
5. White Gas (Naphtha)
White gas is a colorless liquid used in camping stoves and lanterns. This liquid can cause chemical burns when it comes into contact with the skin or eyes. In addition, white gas fumes are harmful if inhaled for any length because they irritate the lungs.
What are the Signs of a Chemical Burn?
You can tell if you have a chemical burn by looking for any of the following signs:
- Red or pink skin around the area of exposure
- Pain when you touch the extent of exposure
- Itchy skin around the area of exposure
- Redness and swelling. A chemical burn will cause redness and swelling. If left untreated, this can cause tissue damage and scarring.
- Blisters. Heat burns and friction burns usually cause blisters that form over 24 hours, but they can also be caused by chemical burns.
- Painful skin. The pain caused by a chemical burn is usually intense and lasts for several days before gradually subsiding.
- Burning sensation on skin contact with liquid or solid chemicals containing acids or bases (e.g., lye).
How Is A Chemical Burn Different From Other Burns?
Chemical burns are a little different than other types of burns. The reason is that chemical burns are often much more severe than simple thermal (heat) burns. This is because chemicals can react with your skin, causing chemical reactions that can damage the tissue and even enter your bloodstream. These reactions can cause severe damage and sometimes even death.
How Does A Chemical Burn Damage The Skin?
A chemical burn is not simply a matter of the skin being burned by a hot liquid or chemical. The skin damage caused by a chemical burn can be much more severe.
The damage caused by a chemical burn is usually more profound than you might think, and it can even damage the underlying tissues, muscles, and blood vessels. Chemicals like hydrofluoric acid or sulfuric acid can cause such deep burns that they can cause permanent damage to your skin.
Chemical burns are often more complicated than burns from heat or flame. For example, suppose you spilled some hydrofluoric acid on your arm. In that case, it could cause severe damage to tissues in your arm and your bone structure — all because of how corrosive hydrofluoric acid is.
What Should I Do If I Sustain A Chemical Burn?
If you think that you have sustained a chemical burn, seek emergency medical attention immediately.
Chemical burns can be excruciating and dangerous if the chemicals are not washed off immediately. Some substances are more complicated than others, but it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you sustain any burn from chemicals, take these steps:
Immediately flush the area with water for five to 10 minutes. If necessary, use soap or shampoo as well. Do not use any creams or lotions on your skin before flushing with water; they may contain additional chemicals that could worsen things.
Call 911 or go to an emergency room if the burn is severe or covers a large area of your body (if the chemical was splashed on your face or hands, call 911). Visit Urgent Care for emergency treatment.
When Should I See A Doctor For My Chemical Burn?
When should you see a doctor for your chemical burn? It depends on the severity and location of your burn. Chemical burns are typically classified into three degrees of severity:
First-degree chemical burns are superficial burns that only cause redness, pain, and swelling at the site of contact. They can be treated at home with over-the-counter (OTC) medications such as aloe vera gel or hydrocortisone cream.
Second-degree chemical burns: These burns affect the deep layers of skin and cause blisters and swelling around the affected area. You may need medical attention if you experience these symptoms after contacting chemicals.
Third-degree chemical burns: These are severe burns that affect all layers of skin, causing severe damage to tissue beyond repair. If you have third-degree chemical burns, seek emergency medical treatment right away.
What Are The Treatment Options For Chemical Burns?
To treat chemical burns, it’s essential to know what type of chemical you were exposed to and how long you were exposed.
Treatment options for chemical burns depend on the type and severity of the injury. If you notice any signs or symptoms of an acid or alkali burn (discussed below) or if you have been exposed to any other toxic substance, such as bleach or drain cleaner, call 911 immediately.
Treatment options depend on the severity of your injury:
1. Minor Burns
Treat minor chemical burns at home by washing with water and soap. If the burn is large or covers an area that would otherwise be difficult to clean, visit an urgent care center or emergency room for treatment.
2. Moderate-To-Severe Burns
Moderate-to-severe chemical burns require medical attention from a doctor or other medical professional. In these cases, you’ll need treatment for pain and any infections that may have developed due to your injury. You may also need surgery if you have damaged tissue that needs to be removed from your body.
Visit iCare Urgent Care, Argyle, TX
Although the most severe issues can appear anytime during the healing process, some warning signs indicate that the injury needs more urgent attention. If the symptoms persist or worsen, contact your doctor or visit a walk-in clinic like iCare Urgent Care, Argyle, TX, to receive a qualified checkup by experienced professionals.