How To Avoid And Treat Electrical Burns

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If your body comes into direct contact with electricity, the current may cause an electrical shock or burn. It’s most common when working with wires or tools that aren’t properly insulated, says Travis Perry, MD, with Miami Valley Hospital Burn Center. “You might be changing an outlet or a light switch and not using the appropriate tools. Or your child might stick something into a wall outlet.”

Sometimes burns occur from lightning, or by getting too close to high-voltage wires.

How Bad Is It?

Determining the extent of your burn can be tricky. Even serious burns can appear to be minor at first glance. That’s because your most severe injury could be internal. “An electrical current can move very slowly through the body, all the while causing significant damage beneath your skin’s surface,” explains Dr. Perry. “It can seriously injure nerves, tendons, muscles, blood vessels, and bone. The results can be devastating, even fatal.”

The amount of damage to your body depends on:

  • Where the electric current passed through your body
  • The voltage
  • How healthy you are
  • How quickly you are treated

“The higher the voltage of the electrical current, the more likely you’ll experience deep tissue damage,” says Dr. Perry.

How Can I Help Someone With An Electrical Burn?

If you witness someone suffering from an electrical burn:

  • Safely disconnect the power supply if possible.
  • If the person is still in contact with the electrical current, don’t touch them.
  • If the person is no longer in contact with the electrical current, and they are able to talk and move around, get them to a health care provider to determine the extent of their injury. Remember that their injuries may be internal and not noticeable at first glance.

Call 911 if:

  • The burn is from a high voltage wire or lightning
  • The burns look severe
  • The person experiences any of the following: confusion, difficulty breathing, heart rhythm problems, cardiac arrest, muscle pain, seizures

“If you decide not to seek treatment and tough it out instead, you may find yourself experiencing severe pain, a weak pulse, and getting pale, cold, and numb,” warns Dr. Perry. “Eventually you may be unable to move.”

What not to do:

  • Don’t plunge a burn into a bucket of ice. “This can actually make the injury worse by creating another type of burn called hypothermia,” warns Dr. Perry.
  • Don’t cover a burn with a blanket or towel. Their loose fibers can stick to the burn. Use only sterile gauze bandages.

What Can I Do To Reduce the Risk?

To help prevent electrical injuries:

  • Cover outlets with plastic safety caps so children don’t stick something into them.
  • Use only properly insulated wires.
  • Keep wires out of children’s reach so they don’t bite them.
  • Keep all appliances away from bathtubs, toilets, and pools.
  • Install ground fault circuit interrupter outlets (GFCIs) in your home that shut off the flow of electricity if the current is taking an unintended path.
  • Stay at least 20 feet away from overhead power lines even if they have fallen. These lines usually aren’t insulated.
  • Hire licensed electricians for wiring work.
  • Follow safety precautions if lightning is in your area

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.