What Causes Chemical Burns And How To Treat Them?

Written by Swathi E , Certified Skin Care Coach

A chemical burn is not limited to workplace accidents. It can happen anywhere – even at your home. This is because we are always exposed to various substances like household bleaches, cleaners, and batteries that may cause chemical burns. And learning about them is the best way to avoid such accidents. This article discusses the common causes of chemical burns, symptoms, first aid, treatment, and prevention tips. Read on.

What Is A Chemical Burn?

Chemical burns, also known as caustic burns, occur when your skin comes in contact with acidic or alkaline chemicals, causing irritation and damage to human tissues. The chemicals can cause serious damage to the throat and mouth if ingested.

Chemical burns can happen to anyone at any place, including your home, workplace, school, outdoors, etc. They commonly affect the eyes, face, arms, and legs.

Many of the items we use daily can also cause a chemical burn. Know what they are in the next section.

Common Causes Of Chemical Burns

A chemical burn is mostly caused by the substances commonly found at home, the workplace, and the environment. Some of them are:

  • Household cleaners like bleach, ammonia, detergents, and drain cleaners
  • Skin, hair, and nail care products
  • Dental cleaners and teeth whitening kits
  • Oven cleaners
  • Pool chlorine and cleaning systems
  • Cement
  • Car batteries
  • Gasoline
  • Fertilizers
  • Paint thinners
  • Metal cleaners

Several other products used at home and work may also cause chemical burns.

Labeling the chemical containers and storing them in safe conditions will help avoid accidents.

Some individuals are at a higher risk of experiencing chemical burns. Let us understand more in the next section.

Who Is At Risk?

Infants, young children, older adults, and people with disabilities are at a higher risk for chemical burns. While children may not know how to handle chemicals, older people may find it difficult to handle them properly. Hence, the risk is more for these groups.

People working in industries are at a greater risk of chemical exposure. Around 13 million Americans have jobs where chemical exposure is common, especially in industries like agriculture, transportation, manufacturing, services, utilities, construction, and sales (1).

Studies also show that workplace burn injuries occur predominantly among young male workers (2).

Chemical burns can also occur due to cosmetic products like chemical peels and face creams. Though these are rare, they can cause severe injuries and complications.

Read on to know about the symptoms of chemical burns.

Symptoms Of A Chemical Burn

The symptoms of a chemical burn depend on different factors like:

  • The chemical used
  • Whether the chemical was inhaled, swallowed, or touched
  • How long the contact lasted
  • Contact location on the body
  • Whether there were any open cuts during the contact
  • Amount, strength, and state of the chemical

For example, contact with an eye will cause more damage than with the skin (3).

The symptoms of chemical contact with skin and eyes include:

  • Itching, bleaching, or darkening of the skin (4)
  • Irritation, redness, or a burning sensation
  • Numbness and pain in the affected areas
  • Vision damage or loss if exposed to eyes

The symptoms if the chemical was inhaled or swallowed include:

  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Muscle contractions
  • Coughing/coughing blood
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Low blood pressure
  • Irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest

It is very important to know how to treat chemical burns as they can cause severe health problems if left untreated. Read on to know more.

Diagnosis And Treatment

Before suggesting any treatment, the doctor may ask you about the type of chemical that caused the burn, its quantity, and how long it was in contact with the skin. Then, during diagnosis, they will determine the burn type (first-, second-, or third-degree).

The medical treatment of the burn will be based on its severity. The different ways to treat chemical burns are:

  • Antibiotics and anti-itch medicines
  • IV fluids to normalize blood pressure
  • Skin grafting
  • Cleaning and removing dead tissue

Monitoring of calcium and magnesium levels is also important. In some cases, intradermal calcium injections are also used (3).

Prevention is always better than cure. The following preventive tips can help one stay safe and avert chemical burns.

How To Prevent Chemical Burns

In most cases, a chemical burn occurs as an accident. You may avoid it by following these tips:

  • Store the chemicals in a safe place and away from children.
  • Wear protective gear while working with chemicals.
  • Use chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
  • Keep chemicals in their original container or label the container.
  • Be aware of the potential risks of chemicals you may be exposed to.
  • Follow the instructions and warnings before using the chemicals.
  • Wash your hands after handling anything that has chemicals in it. You may use safety gloves for added protection.
  • Ensure that first aid supplies are available at your home and the workplace.

Also, in industries, the employees should be informed and trained about the dangerous substances they may be exposed to. In addition, management should provide protective equipment and first aid classes to the employees.

First aid plays an important role in stopping the spread of burn and its damage. Here is what you need to do.

First Aid For A Chemical Burn

  • Remove the contaminated clothing, footwear, and jewelry.
  • Wash the affected area with running water for at least 20 minutes. Do this as immediately as possible.
  • If the chemical is in the eye, tilt the head to the side to protect the other eye. Then gently flush it out with cool water for 20 minutes. Make sure you seek medical help immediately.
  • Cover the affected area with clean and dry clothing. Do not wrap it tightly. It should not stick to the skin.

It is necessary to visit a doctor after the first aid to know the burn’s condition and avoid further complications. Read on.

When To Seek Medical Care

Chemical burns require medical care. You must seek emergency medical support for severe cases. You may seek medical care if:

  • The affected person feels dizzy, turns pale, and experiences breathing issues.
  • The skin affected is larger than 3 inches.
  • You experience blurred vision.
  • The burn affects the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks, or a major joint.
  • You suspect your child has inhaled or swallowed a caustic substance.

In some cases, the accident site and the person affected should be decontaminated before being taken to the hospital.

The Takeaway

Chemical burns occur when your skin gets exposed to acidic or alkaline chemicals. Several products you use in your daily life, including cosmetic products and bathroom cleaners, can cause chemical burns. Hence, be careful while using such harmful chemicals and keep them away from infants and children. Seek emergency medical support if you happen to get a chemical burn.


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  1. Effects of Skin Contact with Chemicals What a Worker Should Know
  2. Workplace-related burns
  3. Chemical Burns
  4. Occupational chemical burns: a 2-year experience in the emergency department

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