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How to Treat a Chemical Burn

Of the 450,000 burn-related injuries requiring medical treatment across the United States each year, about 3% of them are treated for chemical burns. Chemical burns are caused by various corrosive chemicals that are harmful to the body.

What is a chemical burn?

A chemical burn is an injury to the skin, eyes, mouth or internal organs caused by corrosive chemicals harmful to human contact. Sometimes referred to as caustic burns, chemical burns can happen anywhere chemicals are present. From home and work to school and public areas, chemicals can cause harm if not used properly or accessed accidentally.

The most common types of household and everyday-use chemicals that can lead to chemical burns include:

  • Bleach
  • Ammonia
  • Drain or toilet bowl cleaners
  • Battery acid
  • Tooth-whitening products
  • Metal cleaners
  • Pool chlorinators
  • Paint thinner
  • Gasoline

What are the signs and symptoms of a chemical burn?

Most chemical burns happen on the face, eyes, arms or legs. If you experience a chemical burn of the mouth or throat, call 9-1-1 right away.

Symptoms of chemical burns include:

  • Redness
  • Swelling
  • Irritation or burning on the affected area
  • Pain or numbness
  • Blisters or dead black skin
  • Vision changes, especially if a chemical enters the eye
  • Cough

Some symptoms, such as swelling and redness, take minutes to hours after exposure to appear.

Less common symptoms of a chemical burn include:

  • Faintness, weakness, dizziness
  • Low blood pressure
  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Muscle twitching
  • Headache
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Shortness of breath
  • Severe cough 
  • Cardiac arrest

Chemicals can penetrate deep into the body in rare instances, causing severe tissue damage.

How do I treat a chemical burn?

Treatment for chemical burns is based mainly on the severity of symptoms experienced and burn classification.

If you experience a chemical burn, do the following as quickly as possible:

  • Remove and dispose of clothing or jewelry that the chemical has contaminated.
  • Get rid of the chemical in the affected area by flushing the chemical off the skin with cool water for at least 10 minutes.
  • If dry chemicals have burned you, brush off any remaining material before rinsing the affected area. Wear gloves or use a towel or cloth or brush to avoid getting any more chemicals in direct contact with your body.
  • Bandage the burn. Cover the affected area with a sterile bandage or a clean cloth. Avoid using fluffy cotton coverings, as they could stick or harm the area further. Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on damaged skin.
  • Repeat a flush of the area. If your symptoms do not get better, or if they worsen after the initial flush, repeat this step by flushing the burn area with water for several more minutes.

Other treatments that may help your chemical burn include:

  • Applying a cool compress in 5 to 15-minute intervals to relieve pain and reduce swelling.
  • Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever.
  • Daily cleaning of the wound.

In some cases, physicians may prescribe a topical or oral antibiotic.

What are the three burn levels?

Depending on the severity of exposure, chemical burns can fall into any of the three categories of burns.

First-degree burns affect the top layer of the skin. They are considered the most minimal type of burn and cause minor redness, pain and swelling. Often, they can heal at home without the need for outside medical treatment.

Second-degree burns affect the top two layers of your skin. They’re most recognizable by their moist or wet appearance on the surface of the affected area and often require medical attention to avoid severe infection.

Third-degree burns are the most critical type of burn affecting all three layers of the skin. They can penetrate so deeply that they affect underlying nerves, tissue, muscles and bones. In most cases, where nerves are affected, the area is numb due to nerve damage. If you suspect that you are experiencing a third-degree burn, call 9-1-1 immediately.

When to visit Coastal Urgent Care of Bossier & Haughton

Most chemical burns require medical treatment right away.

Seek emergency medical care or call 9-1-1 if your chemical burn:

  • Is deep.
  • Covers an area larger than 3 inches in diameter.
  • Covers the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint.

Visit Coastal Urgent Care of Bossier & Haughton to get the chemical burn treatment you need today. We welcome walk-in appointments 7 days a week and are here to help you feel better sooner.