Acid burns, also known as caustic burns, happen when the skin comes in contact with an acid, base or solvent. The chemicals can affect anywhere on the body and cause irreversible damage in many cases.
When the acid comes in contact with the skin, it causes “coagulation necrosis, “ meaning cell death leads to the end of tissues. It is this which has the damaging effects often seen in acid burn survivors. Acid burns are capable of causing deformities of the skin for life. There are also psychological effects that a person goes through like, stress disorders or post-traumatic stress disorder.
Acid burns are caused by materials that are readily available in many places, and hence it is vital to know all you can about acid burns, the symptoms and how you can treat them.
- People at greater risk
Some people are at a higher risk than others of coming in contact with chemical materials, acidic ones. These people are infants, older people and people with disabilities. You might also be at an increased risk of burns if you work somewhere you are handling acids without proper guidance or equipment. Unfortunately, in the world we live in today, there’s no category for people who are genuinely at a greater risk of acid burns as it has become a popular crime to use acid as a terror weapon.
The symptoms might change from person to person, but their basis remains the same, so it is relatively straightforward to identify a chemical burn.
The symptoms include pain, redness, burning where the acid reaches contact with the skin and irritation. You may experience vision loss or blurry vision if the acid comes in touch with your eyes and breathing difficulties if you inhale the acidic fumes.
- Chemical burns categorization
There are three categorizations in chemical burns; first degree, second-degree and lastly, third-degree burns. The least harmful is a first-degree burn, and the most damaging, as you can then figure, is a third-degree burn which can cause extreme damage to the body and skin.
- Know your acids and bases
Acids usually have a pH level of less than 7, which is water, and they get dangerous as they move closer to pH level 1. Whereas bases have a pH level of more than 7, they get dangerous as they get closer to the level of 14. Acid attacks have become quite common, and the type of acids used in these attacks are hydrochloric acid or sulfuric acid, and these are synonymous with physical damage.
Products that have acidic properties in them include toilet cleaners, battery acid, bleach and other chemicals. Solid and liquid forms of acid can also cause harm depending on the strength of the acid and the amount of time it has been in contact with the skin.
- Acid burns that can be rinsed with water and how to go about it
You can significantly reduce the impact acid has on your body by running the burned area under a lot of water. Running the affected area under water within 1 minute of the burn can significantly reduce the risk of greater damage and scarring. Ask someone to aid you, to put on gloves and wipe the affected area. Also, take off any jewellery or accessories that you might be wearing as they could have trapped acid in or around them.
- Acid burns that should not be rinsed with water.
Carbolic acid and hydrofluoric acid are some of the acids that do not mix with water. Use alcohol to get the acid off the skin and then rinse it with water. Sulfuric acid burns can be flushed/rinsed with a soapy solution if the burns are not severe. Hydrofluoric acid needs to be mixed with a calcium solution. Acids burn that have gotten in the eye should be immediately flushed out with copious amounts of water.
Remember to go to your primary healthcare doctor and get a professional inspection of the burns if they continue to irritate you and still burn. Based on the severity, the doctor will prescribe antibiotic creams such as anti-itch medications, skin grafting (if the burn is severe), and in some cases, IV fluids as well.
- Emergency help
While consulting your primary healthcare doctor is always a good idea, you may not reach there in time, or the doctor may not be available. There are a lot of what-ifs and uncertainty around the situation. In times like these, do not hesitate to contact and call emergency services.
It is their job to work under tight schedules and help you under any circumstance – I guess that’s why we called them ‘emergency’ services. When you call emergency services, give them the following information so that they are entirely aware of your problem before they get to you. This will save them time from working out how to help you when they get to you.
If you happen to know the name of the chemical you have been attacked with, give it to them immediately. This will help emergency services identify the dangers you’re in, and the process of removing the chemical will be more comfortable.
Chemical and acid burns can be excruciating when experienced, but they can be treated with basic first aid and follow-up care with your doctor on the brighter side. Even that can be reduced if you act promptly when you come in contact with any acid or dangerous chemical product.
Be careful when handling any type of chemical product and do not inhale it or touch your face before washing your hands properly. Wear protective gear while handling any kind of chemical.
Often, reading the warning label and being advised and made aware of the harmful effects and given proper instructions before using can prevent serious medical emergencies to a great extent.