Chemical burns can be particularly dangerous because there can be little or no warning before an injury occurs. While fires may start suddenly, the smell of the smoke and the heat of the flames give warning to potential victims. Chemicals on the other hand, are often odorless, tasteless and invisible.
Chemical burns are often caused by acids or bases. The chemicals can be found in the agricultural industry, industrial industry, medical field, military field or even in the home. Chemical burns account for roughly 2-6% of all burns requiring hospitalization.
Often, chemical burns need no heat source. Sometimes they occur as soon as the chemical comes into contact with the skin and other times the reaction is delayed. The reaction can be delayed due to the lack of odor, taste and color of certain chemicals. A person might not be aware that he or she has come into contact with the chemical and thus, does not wash his or her skin off right away. Therefore, the chemical is allowed to penetrate the skin causing significant burns.
Whether the chemical burn is known immediately or there is a delayed reaction, chemical burns can be extremely serious and extremely painful. The symptoms of a chemical burn vary depending on the chemical that caused the burn. Sometimes the skin will look white or bleached and other times the skin will appear red. Many times the skin will be warm to the touch and be painful. Blistering can also occur.
No matter what type of chemical caused the burn, the initial part of the treatment is the same. The chemical agent must be removed from the patientís body. The burn is likely to be less severe if the chemical agent is removed from the body quickly and thoroughly.
As with any other type of burn, the patient should be stabilized and careful attention should be paid to fluid loss and the need for supplemental fluids. Chemical burns can be deceptively deep, so extra fluids may be especially important.
Medical professionals may also wish to contact poison control if they believe that any of the chemical that has entered the body is toxic. Poison control can provide specific advice for protecting the patients from toxicity and preventing further damage.
After the patient is stabilized and specific treatments have been provided for specific chemicals, then the surgical team will evaluate the patient to determine if surgery is necessary. Chemical burns can often result in dangerous third degree burns that require surgery and skin grafts.
Chemical burns are very serious. It is important to take proper precautions whenever you are working with chemicals in the workplace or at home. If your work regularly involves the use of chemicals then you should insist that your employer provide safety training and appropriate protective equipment. If an accident does occur then be sure to seek immediate medical treatment even if the injury does not seem severe in order to protect yourself from the potentially fatal complications of chemical burns.