Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
They are lesions of the skin and mucous membranes caused by contact with corrosive chemicals and electrical discharges.
There is talk of chemical burn when the damage is caused by contact of the eyes, nose, mouth or skin with a chemical. This can happen directly or indirectly, through the vapors of the product. Both industrial and household chemicals can cause severe burns to people and animals.
How they manifest
Depending on the severity, burns are classified into 3 groups:
- 1st degree burns: they are the mildest, with simple redness, burning and pain on contact. There are no blisters. They heal quickly and leave no scars on the skin.
- 2nd degree burns: in addition to the surface layer of the skin, the immediately underlying layer of tissue is also affected. They are very painful and there are liquid-filled blisters. Less severe burns heal within a few weeks, deeper ones require longer times, healing is often difficult and permanent scars remain.
- 3rd degree burns: they are the most serious as the area is completely destroyed in its thickness in the affected area. However, their appearance is often less impressive than 2nd degree burns. There is no pain from the destruction of the nerve receptors and there are no blisters. Healing takes a long time and leaves permanent scars (keloids) sometimes disfiguring to the point of having to resort to plastic surgery.
The severity of the burn also depends on the extent, the affected area and the cause that produced it. A 3rd degree but small burn does not represent a danger to life. Conversely, a very extensive 2nd degree burn can have a very serious prognosis.
The affected area is also important, especially if it affects joints or skin areas subject to stretching or delicate parts. Burns affecting the face, eyes, ears and genitals always require specialist evaluation.
What are the risks
The burn can become infected. In severe cases there may be fever, passage of bacteria in the blood and spread of the infection to other parts of the body. Particularly at risk are infants and the elderly with diabetes.
What should be done
- Immediately remove clothing soaked in the corrosive substance and rinse thoroughly under cold running water (for at least 15 minutes). If the burn is extensive, put the injured person in the shower or immerse him in a bathtub.
- It may be counterproductive to try to neutralize the chemical that causes the burn with other chemicals; this attempt should therefore be avoided.
- In case of burns to the eyes it is essential to carry out a prolonged washing, for at least 20 minutes, under running water, turning the eyelid upwards. Contact an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. In the event of burns from electric current, it is always necessary to contact a doctor or an emergency room as soon as possible to evaluate the possible existence of deep lesions or alterations of the heart rhythm.
- For more information see Heat Burns tab.
When to seek medical attention
- For all 2nd and 3rd degree burns.
- For burns that affect delicate parts of the body, such as the face, eyes or abdomen or burns from electric current.
- In the event of a high fever, above 39 °C.
- In case of delay in healing despite the interventions performed.
- In case of infection of the burnt part.
- If the patient is elderly, suffering from diabetes or is a child under 3 years of age.