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Electrical Burns and Injuries

Definition

Electrical burns and injuries are the result electrical currents passing through the body. Temporary or permanent damage can occur to the skin, tissues, and major organs. Extent of the damage depends on the strength and duration of the electrical current.

Causes

Electrical burns and injuries result from accidental contact with exposed parts of electrical appliances, wiring, or lightning strikes.
Appliance or wiring injuries may occur when:
Occupational accidents can occur from electric arcs from high-voltage power lines. Electric arcs occur when a burst of electricity jumps from one electrical conductor to another, creating bright flashes.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your chance of an electrical burn or injury include:

Symptoms

Symptoms will depend on the amount of electricity that passed through the body and length of time the current was in contact with the body.
An electrical shock can cause severe muscle contractions. These contractions can causes falls or injuries, including broken bones. Other symptoms include:
The electrical current can also disrupt certain functions in the body which may cause:
Electricity can also cause cardiac arrest , respiratory failure, and/or unconsciousness.

Diagnosis

Electrical burns and injuries will be diagnosed based on events and symptoms. A physical exam will be done.
Like other burns, electrical burns have 3 degrees of severity, each with distinctive symptoms:
Classification of Skin Burns
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It may be more difficult to diagnosis damage under the skin caused by electricity. Tests may include:

Treatment

If possible, cut the power source by throwing a switch or circuit breaker, or unplugging the power. Do not endanger yourself. Call for emergency medical services right away. Treatment will depend on the extent of injuries.
Treatment will depend on the individual's response to the electric shock and what injuries were caused.
Less severe symptoms may only require observation and time to fade. Some symptoms can linger over long periods of time.

Emergency Care

Severe shocks that have caused the heart to stop, a loss of consciousness, seizures or severe injury will need emergency help. Emergency response and first aid must be done quickly to restore breathing and prevent further injury or death. Some emergency steps may include:
  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)—if the heart has stopped beating, CPR can provide oxygen-rich air to the vital organs of the body until advanced care is reached
  • Airway and breathing support
  • IV fluids to restore balance in the body (may not be used for lightning strikes)
Surgery may also be needed to care for deeper burns or repair some wounds.

Follow-up Care

Some complications from electrical injuries can have a delayed onset. Observation and future testing may be needed for symptoms that develop after the incident. Later complications may arise from heart, kidney, or nerve damage.

Prevention

To help reduce your chances of electrical burns and injuries:

RESOURCES

Burn Prevention Network http://www.burnprevention.org

Safe Kids Worldwide http://www.safekids.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Health Canada http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

Healthy Alberta http://www.healthyalberta.com

References

Electrical injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated August 26, 2013. Accessed November 3, 2014.

Electrical injuries. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries%5Fpoisoning/electrical%5Fand%5Flightning%5Finjuries/electrical%5Finjuries.html. Updated March 2014. Accessed November 3, 2014.

Fire safety. Nemours Kid's Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/firstaid%5Fsafe/home/fire.html. Updated July 2011. Accessed November 3, 2014.

Fish RM, Geddes LA. Conduction of electrical current to and through the human body: A review. Eplasty. 2009;9:e44.

Lightning injuries. The Merck Manual Professional Edition website. Available at: http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries%5Fpoisoning/electrical%5Fand%5Flightning%5Finjuries/lightning%5Finjuries.html. Updated March 2014. Accessed November 3, 2014.

Sanford A, Gamelli RL. Lightning and thermal injuries. handb Clin neurol. 2014;120:981-986.

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