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Chemical Burn

Topic Overview

Note: If a chemical has been swallowed that may be a poison or may cause burning in the throat and esophagus, call your local Poison Control Center or the National Poison Control Hotline (1-800-222-1222) immediately for information on treatment. When you call the Poison Control Center, have the chemical container with you, so you can read the contents label to the Poison Control staff member.

Chemicals can cause skin burns or allergic reactions or can be poisonous. Chemical burns need to be evaluated and treated. If you are unable to reach your doctor immediately, call a Poison Control Center. Poison Control Center staff can help determine what treatment is needed.

Most chemical burns are caused by:

  • Acids, such as battery acid, toilet bowl cleaners, or artificial nail primers.
  • Alkalis, such as paint removers, lime, dishwasher powders, or lye. Alkalis usually cause more tissue damage than acids.
  • Metals, such as molten metal compounds used in foundries.
  • Hydrocarbons, such as gasoline or hot tar.

A chemical burn may be serious because of the action of the corrosive or irritating chemicals on the skin. A chemical burn on the skin can be deeper and larger than the burn first appears. If the chemical can be rinsed with water, the burning process can be reduced if the area is rinsed immediately with water. Waiting just a few minutes to rinse the burned area can increase the chance of the burn becoming more serious.

The face, eyes, hands, and feet are the most common body areas burned by chemicals.

Air bags that inflate can cause friction or heat (thermal) burns from the physical impact or chemical burns from the substances in the air bags.

For any chemical burn to the eye, see the topic Burns to the Eye.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Current as of June 4, 2014

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