Acid Burns

Topic Overview

Acid products include toilet cleaners, battery acid, bleach, chemicals used in industry for crystal etching, and chemicals that are added to gas. Acid solids and liquids can cause injury, depending on the type, the strength, and the length of time the acid is in contact with the body. The damage is usually kept to the area of contact and does not usually cause damage deep in the tissue.

When a chemical burn occurs, find out what chemical caused the burn. Call a Poison Control Center immediately for more information about how to treat the burn. 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.

Most chemical burns are treated first by rinsing (flushing) the chemical off your body with a large amount of cool water, but not all chemicals are treated this way. It is important to treat the burn correctly to avoid further complications.

Chemical burns rinsed with water

  • Immediately rinse with a large amount of cool water. Rinsing within 1 minute of the burn can reduce the risk of complications.
  • Flush the area for at least 20 minutes.
    • Do not use a hard spray of water, because it can damage the burned area.
    • Have the person with the burn remove the chemical substance if he or she is able.
    • Put on gloves to protect yourself from the chemical, if you need to remove it.
  • As you flush the area, take off any clothing or jewelry that has the chemical on it.
  • If the area still has a burning sensation after 20 minutes, flush the area again with flowing water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Chemical burns not rinsed with water

Some acid burns are made worse if rinsed (flushed) with water.

  • Carbolic acid or phenol does not mix with water, so use alcohol first to flush the chemical off the skin and then flush with water. If alcohol is not available, flush with a large amount of water. Do not flush the eye with alcohol.
  • Sulfuric acid is flushed with a mild, soapy solution if the burns are not severe. Sulfuric acid feels hot when water is added to the acid, but it is better to flush the area and not leave the acid on the skin.
  • Hydrofluoric acid is flushed with a bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) solution. (Use a small amount of water to make the solution.) Then flush with a large amount of water. Burns from this acid may not show at first, so flush the area even if a burn is not seen. Do not flush the eye with a baking soda solution.
  • Metal compounds are covered with mineral oil.

The most important first aid for a chemical in the eye is to immediately flush the substance out with large amounts of water to reduce the chance of serious eye damage. For any chemical burn to the eye, see the topic Burns to the Eye.

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
Last Revised December 27, 2012

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