Electrical Burns

Electrical burns are burns that are caused by coming in contact with an electrical source. About 1,000 people in the United States die from electrical burns each year. Electrical burns are very dangerous, as the electrical current can harm internal organs and tissues, as well as causing burns on the skin.

In some cases, no burns are visible on the skin, but internal injuries have occurred. The electrical shock may also cause the patient to be thrown or to fall, which may result in fractures or other injuries. Electricity should be handled with care at all times to prevent electrical burns.

Causes of Electrical Burns

The human body can conduct electricity, so any minor contact with an electrical source can cause harm. Grasping live wires, falling into water that is electrified, and touching electrical outlets can cause electrical burns and other injuries. About 50 percent of all electrical burns are caused by direct contact with power lines.

Certain professions put patients at higher risk for electrical burns, such as electrical repair, cable servicing, and construction. However, even fields such as technology or dentistry can inadvertently put workers in harm’s way as the electrical cords and electronic equipment can fall into disrepair. The incidence of electrical burns is on the rise as technology advances and more electrical equipment is introduced into homes and workplaces.

Types of Electrical Burns

There are six main types of electrical burns. More than one type can be present on a victim of an electrical burn. Burns should be handled and treated differently, depending on the type of burn.

Arc Burn

Arc burns do not require direct contact with an electrical source. The burn is caused by electrical energy traveling from an area of high resistance to an area of low resistance. The circuit is completed when the air particles are ionized. Heat in excess of 4000 degrees Celsius can be produced and a blast of pressure from the arc can throw objects and living things with tremendous force.

Low Voltage Burn

Low voltage burns are caused by contact with a power source that is 500 volts or less. This type of burn is typically milder, only injuring the skin. The voltage is not powerful enough to harm tissue or organs.

High Voltage Burn

High voltage burns occur when a patient makes direct contact with a high voltage electrical source. Current runs through the body, and can cause damage to organs and tissues. The extent of skin damage can be misleading in high voltage electrical burns.

Oral Burn

Oral burns are more common in children, and are most often caused by biting into an electrical cord. Current passes from one side of the mouth to the other, causing extensive damage in the mouth. Faulty dental equipment has also caused oral burns in some cases.

Flash Burn

Flash burns are caused by electrical arcs on the skin. These types of burns most commonly harm the skin, and do not penetrate into tissues. Arc burns can cause extensive damage of large areas of skin.

Flame Burn

Flame burns are caused by other types of electrical burns, such as arc burns or flash burns. The source of the burn ignites, creating a flame. Patients of this type of burns often have injuries from other types of burns.

Treating Electrical Burns

Electrical burns can be tricky to treat, as the source of the burn can cause injury to anyone that comes in contact with the patient if the patient is still in contact with the electrical source. The electrical source should be removed or turned off if possible, using an object that is made of wood, rubber, or plastic, as these materials do not conduct electricity. The patient should be laid down to prevent injury from shock or seizures that may occur.

Assessing Electrical Burns

Once the patient has been taken out of harm’s way, the patient’s injuries should be assessed. If there is any threat of internal injuries, the patient should be taken to a medical facility for treatment. If the patient is having difficulties breathing, CPR should be administered. Burns should be cooled under running water and covered loosely to prevent infection.




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