Medically Reviewed by Dr. David Costa Navarro
• Electrical injury (March 28, 2020)
Electric accidents at home are unusual, as many homes have high electrical safety. Despite this, electric accidents happen. It can be either a single electric shock or getting current through the body. Always contact the healthcare provider if you or a person in your vicinity is receiving power through the body.
You can get a shock of static electricity, for example if you brush your hair with a plastic brush or take off a knitted sweater. This text is not about such shocks. It is about when you get an electric shock or current in the body, called a current passage.
- 1 Symptoms
- 2 When and where should I seek care?
- 3 Investigations and investigations
- 4 Treatment
- 5 What happens in the body?
- 6 How can I prevent electrical accidents?
- 7 What can I do if another person is involved in an electrical accident?
- 8 Report hazardous electrical products and electrical accidents
- 9 What is the cause of electrical accidents?
- 10 Influence and participate in your care
Symptoms of an electric shock
You can get an individual light shock, for example from an electric fence. You can also get an electric shock from an electrical product after unplugging, for example from an electric whisk. Electric shocks are often shorter than a second.
You may experience one or both of the symptoms below in the event of a slight electric shock:
- It stings and hurts the body part that got the bump, but it goes over quickly.
- You get a small burn that can burn and hurt. The burn is usually no greater than a small dot.
These kinds of bumps are usually harmless, although they can feel uncomfortable.
Symptoms if you get power through the body or get stuck at the power source
A power source is the place where the power comes from, for example an electrical outlet. Having or having power in the body gives different symptoms. The symptoms can also be various strong.
You may experience one or more of the following symptoms in the event of an electrical accident:
- Cramps in the muscles, for example in the body part that came into contact with the power source. You can also have cramps throughout your body.
- It hurts the body part that came into contact with the power source.
- Bad or no feeling at all in the body parts where the current went.
- Burns or other visible damage to the skin.
- It feels like the heart beats irregularly or faster than usual.
- Hard to breathe.
- Hard to pee or you can’t pee at all. The urine may be a reddish-brown color if you pee.
You may also become unconscious.
You may get more symptoms after a while
You may have more symptoms that occur days or months after you have received power through your body or become stuck in a power source. The symptoms are listed below, with the most common first:
- Soreness, pain and that it cuts off pain in the body part that had contact with the power source.
- Impaired feeling and feeling of heat and cold in the body or body parts that were in contact with the power source.
- Poor blood circulation in the body or parts of the stream went through, for example, fingers and toes may become white when it is cold.
- Changed blood pressure, it can be both elevated and lowered.
- Hard to hold tightly and it can leak urine without affecting it, so called urinary incontinence.
- Difficult to get and to maintain position.
- Difficult to keep balance.
- Problems with memory and that it becomes difficult to concentrate.
- Despondency and feelings of anxiety and anxiety.
Symptoms may disappear after a few weeks to years. With them they can also become stronger and not go over at all. The risk increases if the added energy was large. For example, it could be that you got stuck at the power source or that it was high voltage.
When and where should I seek care?
The vast majority of people who receive a slight electric shock do not need to seek care as the problems usually go away by themselves.
Call telephone number 911 for medical advice. Then you can get help to assess symptoms or help with where you can seek care.
If you or anyone in your vicinity has received power through the body, even if you are unsure of how the accident occurred, contact a health care center or an emergency room immediately. If closed, seek care at an emergency room.
When it is in a hurry
Immediately call 911 if any of the following is true of you or someone close to you:
- You or the person has difficulty breathing or does not breathe at all.
- You or the person has an irregular heart rate or no heart rate.
- You or the person has cramps.
- You or the person have been or are unconscious.
- You or the person has a pacemaker or implantable defibrillator, known as ICD.
Investigations and investigations
The doctor examines the entire body carefully. It includes the following:
- To listen to the heart and to measure blood pressure.
- Taking the pulse, often from multiple joints.
- To examine the skin, among other things, to see if you have suffered burns.
You may also submit blood and urine samples.
You are being investigated further
You usually need to be examined more, depending on your injuries. Here are examples of what may need to be explored, and with what:
- The skeleton, brain and organs are examined by x-ray. Computer tomography and magnetic resonance imaging are two different types of X-ray that can be used.
- The heart is examined with ECG.
- The eyes are examined by an ophthalmologist.
- Burns are examined by a surgeon.
- The skeleton, joints and muscles are examined by a hand surgeon or orthopedic surgeon.
- The ears are examined by an ear-nose throat doctor.
You are allowed to stay in the hospital, as some injuries are noticed only after a few hours.
It is important that you be examined for new symptoms. You also need to be examined if you have symptoms that are getting stronger. You can then get a referral to an occupational and environmental medical clinic for further examination.
If you work with electricity, contact a health care center or company health if the accident occurred while working.
The treatment depends on the damage and symptoms you have received.
Pain that does not go over, that it cuts off pain and worse feeling is often due to the thinnest nerves being damaged. You can get medicines for nerve pain, if needed.
Sometimes conversation therapy is needed. Some who have been involved in an electrical accident can experience strong anxiety and experience an existential crisis. Sometimes it can take several months before the emotional reaction arrives.
What happens in the body?
All tissues in the body carry electricity. Nerves, blood vessels and muscles conduct electricity well. Skeletons, tendons and adipose tissue conduct electricity less well.
The damage is due to several things
The current can go either from hand to hand, or from hand to foot. The current can also divide in the body. It can therefore be difficult to detect any damage.
The damage is due to the following:
- How strong the current is.
- How long the body is exposed to the current.
- How much surface area of the body is in contact with the current.
- Which path the current takes through the body.
Power damages the body directly
All tissues in the body are affected by electricity. What happens when the body gets larger amounts of electricity are the following:
- The current affects the heart’s work and can cause the heart to stop beating.
- The current causes the muscles to cramp. You can get spasms in all the muscles of the body, including the muscles of the heart, blood vessels and the airways. Cramps can cause damage to both the muscles and the skeleton.
- The current can cause burns inside the body, for example in the nerves, blood vessels, heart and connective tissue.
- All muscle action means that the kidneys can be damaged by large muscle proteins entering the bloodstream.
The nerve cells are damaged and give symptoms after a while
The symptoms you may have after a few days to months are due to damage to the cell walls of the nerve cells. Initially, the nerves work as they should, but after weeks or months the injuries make it difficult to feel warmth and cold in the damaged body or body parts. You also get hurt. The pain can be both grinding and coming from time to time, much like chopping.
How can I prevent electrical accidents?
One view is that household electricity is not dangerous. That’s not true, household electricity can cause serious damage.
You can do a lot to prevent electrical accidents in your home. Below is advice that reduces the risk of electric accidents at home.
Make sure you have a ground fault circuit breaker installed
Have an approved electrician install a ground fault circuit breaker if you do not have one. If you already have one, make sure it works. Test at least once every six months.
An earth fault switch breaks the current directly if, for example, the outer part of an electrical product begins to conduct current. In this way, the risk of someone being injured or of burning due to electrical faults is reduced.
Hire an approved electrician if you are renovating
Hire an approved electrician if you are installing electricity or reconnecting wiring at home. The ESA’s website has information on what to think about, depending on what you need to do.
A qualified electrician is also known as an authorized electrician. On the ESA’s website you can check the name of the electrical installer or company to see what electrical work they are approved to do.
The website also contains information on what to consider when hiring a company that installs electricity.
Buy safe electrical products
Always buy electrical products that are CE marked. The CE marking means that the product meets EU requirements for electrical safety.
Old electrical products can sometimes lack the CE marking, for example if you inherit an electrical product or buy something used. Contact an approved electrician if you want to make the product safe.
Check your electrical products regularly
Check wires, plugs and switches and replace if necessary. For example, it may be if the cord has dropped at the plug or at the appliance, or if the cord’s insulation has broken.
Make sure that what is broken is repaired. You can sometimes change the cord yourself, but have an approved electrician replace you if you are unsure.
Do not use an electrical product that smells burnt or sounds different than it has in the past.
Read more about how to check your electrical products on the ESA’s website and what you can cook yourself.
Child safe home
You can do the following to increase electrical safety at home if you have children:
- Check that the electrical outlets are cap protected, including the plugs on extension cords and in branch outlets. Otherwise, buy loose cap protectors that you can attach, or replace the electrical outlets with cap protected outlets. Loose cap protection is also called contact protection.
- Avoid having loose cords in front. The child can break the insulation on the cord, for example by chewing on or cutting the cord. Remove unused cables.
- Try to mount or set electrical products so that the child cannot reach them or pull them down the cord. For example, there may be lamps, kettles, coffee makers and irons.
- Avoid having electrical products that look like toys.
- Teach the child that electricity can be dangerous and that one should be careful about electricity.
The text for child safety contains more advice on how to make the home child safe.
Use electrical products that are made for outdoor use when you are outdoors
Electrical products used outdoors need to withstand more moisture than electrical products used indoors. Therefore, when you are outdoors, you should only use electrical products and cables for outdoor use. If you are unsure about your products, read the product’s instruction manual.
Connect outdoor appliances and outdoor lighting only to grounded electrical outlets. Never connect them to an ungrounded electrical outlet indoors.
Use a portable earth fault switch if you are going to use electrical products outdoors and do not have an earth fault switch installed.
Just connect the electrical product when you use it and unplug it when you are done. It is extra important if it is raining or damp.
What can I do if another person is involved in an electrical accident?
Immediately disconnect the power if you see that a person is stuck in a power source. The power source can be an electrical outlet or an electrical product, if it is connected to an electrical outlet. You can also turn off the main power switch.
Do not touch the skin of a person trapped in a power source
It is important that you do not touch the skin of the person trapped in the power source. Then you can get electricity in yourself.
If you cannot turn off the power, do the following:
- Use a non-conducting object to remove the person from the power source. For example, it can be a dry and thick rolled-up newspaper or dry wooden stick.
- Try to pull on the person’s clothes if you can’t remove the person with an object.
When you contact the health care provider, tell them that an electrical accident has happened.
Do not walk near a fallen power line that has fallen
An electrical cord that has fallen can still conduct current. Then the ground around the power line also leads current and you can get power in you if you stand near the power line. Sometimes the current can spread several meters in the ground from a dropped electricity line.
The current from an electricity line can also jump into the air, a so-called arc. The arc can hit you if you are close enough.
Call 911. Tell us that a power line has fallen to the ground.
Report hazardous electrical products and electrical accidents
The American Electric Safety Authority is also working to prevent electrical accidents. They go through the electrical accidents that are reported, and investigate how they can be prevented.
There is no requirement to report, but it helps the American ESA in their work to prevent new accidents. You can register on their website.
What is the cause of electrical accidents?
An electrical accident can occur if, for example, the insulation on a cord has dropped. The electrical product can then conduct electricity if you connect it to an electrical outlet.
An earth fault circuit breaker should break the current when you connect such an electrical product to an electrical outlet, but if it does not, the current from the electrical outlet will pass through the body.
Influence and participate in your care
As a patient, you have the possibility to influence your care according to the patient law.
You can seek care at any medical center or open specialist clinic you want throughout the country.
You should understand the information
In order for you to be involved in your care and treatment, it is important that you understand the information you receive from the healthcare personnel. Ask questions if you don’t understand.