Chemical burns can be caused by many substances, such as strong acids, drain cleaners (lye), paint thinner and gasoline. Usually, you are aware of the burn and its cause. But sometimes you may not immediately recognize a burn caused by a milder chemical. As with some sunburns, the pain and redness may develop hours after the exposure.
When to seek emergency care
Call 911 or seek immediate care for a chemical burn in which the burn:
- Is deep
- Covers an area larger than 3 inches (about 8 centimeters) in diameter
- Covers the hands, feet, face, groin, buttocks or a major joint
If you’re unsure whether a substance is toxic, call Poison Help at 800-222-1222 in the United States. If you seek emergency medical help, take the chemical container or the name of the chemical with you to the emergency department.
Treating chemical burns
If you think you have a chemical burn, take these steps immediately:
- Remove the cause of the burn. Flush the chemical off the skin with cool running water for at least 10 minutes. For dry chemicals, brush off any remaining material before flushing. Wear gloves or use a towel or other suitable object, such as a brush.
- Remove clothing or jewelry that has been contaminated by the chemical.
- Bandage the burn. Cover the burn with a sterile gauze bandage (not fluffy cotton) or a clean cloth. Wrap it loosely to avoid putting pressure on burned skin.
- Flush again if needed. If you experience increased burning after the initial flushing, flush the burn area with water again for several more minutes.
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- What to do in a medical emergency. American College of Emergency Physicians. http://www.emergencycareforyou.org/Emergency-101/Emergencies-A-Z/Burns/. Accessed Nov. 24, 2017.
- Kermott CA, et al., eds. Emergencies and urgent care. In: Mayo Clinic Guide to Self-Care. 7th ed. Rochester, Minn.: Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research; 2017.
- Burns. Merck Manual Professional Version. http://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/injuries_poisoning/burns/burns.html?qt=burns&alt=sh#v1112914. Accessed Nov. 24, 2017.
- Walls RM, et al. Chemical injuries. In: Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Elsevier; 2018. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Nov. 24, 2017.