Chemical Burn

By | June 10, 2022

A chemical burn occurs when the skin or other parts of the body come into contact with chemical or organic solutions that produce a damaging reaction. Chemical burns usually leave deep wounds, cause severe pain and must be treated professionally, especially in drastic cases.

What is a chemical burn?

In specialist medicine, one speaks of chemical burns when the skin, the mucous membranes or the tissue of the body come into contact with a chemical or organic substance, such as alkalis and acids. For cerebral edema explanation, please visit

Depending on the composition and concentration of the solution, it can cause more or less severe chemical burns. Here it is essential to differentiate between the solutions and their risk potential, because there are less aggressive and extremely aggressive substances. Two other roles that affect the severity of the burn are the sensitivity of the affected area and the length of time the skin is exposed to the acid or base.

Certain areas of the skin are less sensitive than others, which can result in less severe wounds and scars. The most sensitive parts of the skin are the mucous membranes, which offer little resistance to penetrating acids and alkalis.


The main cause is contact with the skin, the second “cause” is the reaction that the substance develops on it. Acids, for example, cause superficial cell death, which, depending on the acid type and concentration, can cause wounds, superficial coagulation and cell clumping.

This is best compared to a burn, where the skin’s surface also clumps and coagulates. As a result, however, the liquid can no longer penetrate deeper into the tissue. The situation is different in the case of chemical burns with strong acids (e.g. sulfuric acid), which penetrate deep into the tissue due to the strong aggression. They attack the tissue and the overlying layers of skin.

Lyes, on the other hand, also penetrate directly into the tissue and kill the overlying layers of skin. However, a base reacts differently to the proteins in the skin than an acid. Here the surface does not clump, but liquefies. This enables the lye to penetrate deeper and deeper into the tissue. The problem here is that chemical burns caused by alkalis appear less drastic at first, but can have serious consequences.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The typical signs of chemical burns concern the skin. However, chemicals, acids and alkalis can also damage the eyes. Because of the impending loss of vision, this case is considered very dangerous. Doctors classify the symptoms based on three degrees of severity.

Those affected typically feel persistent pain on the respective skin surface. It shows a strong reddening. Bubbles form within a short time. In severe cases of chemical burns, fluid loss occurs. Corrosive substances ensure that poisoning occurs in the bloodstream. This affects the entire body. A shock is possible.

If the eyes are burned, there is often a risk of blindness. Initially, the cornea becomes cloudy. In addition, redness and pain appear. The eye reacts with a heavy flow of tears. Affected people reflexively close their eyes. If caustic substances get into the pharynx, patients regularly complain of shortness of breath.

The symptoms described can be classified according to an increasing degree of severity. Grade 1 is reddening of the skin. Grade 2 is blistering and damage to the top layer of skin. Destruction of all skin layers except the bottom one is grade 3.

Diagnosis & History

Chemical burns show up as severe redness similar to burns, cracked and bloody areas of skin, a dissolved skin surface and are associated with pain. However, only a doctor can diagnose the severity of the chemical burn and initiate the right treatment immediately.

Because depending on the type of solvent, it can even attack the internal organs or get into the bloodstream if treated incorrectly or not at all. It is therefore extremely important to alert the emergency service immediately in the event of chemical burns that are difficult to assess or severe, to immobilize the injured person and to remove clothing and the like from the affected skin.


Dehydration can result from the loss of fluids. In particular, large-scale chemical burns then also cause neurological deficits. If the mouth and throat are affected, shortness of breath can occur and in severe cases there is even a risk of suffocation.

Chemical burns from alkalis can cause severe damage, especially to the mucous membranes. The areas of the eyes, mouth and throat are particularly at risk, because a chemical burn can quickly lead to a breakthrough and damage the muscles and nerves located under the skin. The skin can then scar, causing permanent damage to organ function.

If the solvent comes into contact with internal organs or gets into the bloodstream, it can cause serious health complications. In extreme cases, permanent organ damage occurs or blood poisoning occurs. Poisoning cannot be ruled out either. When surgically treating a chemical burn, there is always a risk of further injury or infection.

Improper aftercare can lead to wound healing disorders, which often result in scars. If painkillers are used, side effects and interactions cannot be ruled out. Occasionally there are allergic reactions to the materials and medicines used.

When should you go to the doctor?

If a chemical burn occurs, a doctor should be consulted immediately. A chemical burn is an injury to the tissue and must be treated immediately. In the event of contact with acids and corrosive substances, the emergency services should be alerted. At the same time, the poison control center should be turned on. The chemical burn must be cooled until the emergency doctor arrives.

It is also advisable to leave the area to avoid further chemical burns. Depending on the severity of the chemical burn, different measures are possible. In the case of minor chemical burns, which can occur as soon as you come into contact with an aggressive cleaning agent, one or two check-ups by the doctor are sufficient.

If no complications occur, no further visits to the doctor are necessary. Medical help must be sought immediately, especially in the case of chemical burns in the eyes, mouth, throat and throat area. In the case of extensive chemical burns, the tissue is destroyed, which can lead to perforations and other complications. The person concerned should go into the shock position.

All chemical burns must be flushed thoroughly with sterile fluid. Alternatively, running cold water can be used. Because there is a risk of hypothermia and other complaints, this task should be taken over by an emergency doctor. Also ointments or creams may only be applied in consultation with the doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

Depending on the solvent, the resulting wounds can be rinsed out with plenty of water, but since this does not always have the desired effect, this should really only happen in an emergency without medical advice. Incidentally, even the emergency service alerted by telephone can give helpful instructions. A specialist will examine the wound thoroughly, learn about the type of acid or base, and then proceed accordingly.

Some substances must first be neutralized before the wound can be cleaned and treated. Depending on the severity of the chemical burn, sterile bandages and possibly also healing-promoting ointments and tinctures are used here.


Chemical burns can be counteracted by careful handling of hazardous solvents and by always wearing suitable protective clothing. In addition, you should find out about the effects and reactions of strong acids and alkalis on skin contact and how best to proceed in the event of chemical burns. Although this does not necessarily minimize the risk of chemical burns, in an emergency you know how to act more quickly and correctly, which could reduce the severity of the injury.


In the event of a chemical burn, immediate measures play an important role. Since the consequences can be life-threatening in a short time, the focus is on acute treatment. It is usually sufficient to ensure recovery. To prevent a chemical burn from reoccurring, patients must take their own precautions.

However, these do not fall within the medical area of ​​responsibility. If necessary, a doctor can provide information about protective measures with regard to the individual risk situation. If the consequences of a chemical burn remain, the follow-up inspection is based on the symptoms. If the esophagus is affected, a malignant tumor can develop.

In rare cases, even the esophagus needs to be replaced. If substances get into the eye, vision loss is possible. The rhythm of aftercare depends on the symptoms. In addition to a detailed discussion of the signs, the doctor usually also carries out a blood test as part of the check-up. Depending on where the chemical burn occurred, imaging procedures or a corneal examination are ordered.

These measures are intended to enable timely intervention should a deterioration in the general condition or complications become apparent. If a chemical burn leads to unresolvable complications, palliative aftercare may also be indicated. Pain relief through medication then plays a significant role.

You can do that yourself

In order to prevent badly healing wounds and, above all, scarring in the event of chemical burns, those affected should take immediate measures.

The most important measure is that all clothing that has come into contact with the corrosive substance should be removed. Next, the burn should be flushed with clean lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes. Care should be taken to ensure that the acid does not also reach healthy areas of the skin. The etched area must then be bandaged in a germ-free manner. Those affected should absolutely avoid ointments, powders or the like, as these lead to a worsening of the condition.

If a corrosive substance gets into the eyes, there is a risk of loss of sight. Therefore, the affected eye should be rinsed very thoroughly with clean water. It is best for the patient to lie on their back with their head tilted to one side and the affected eye open. Then clean water should be poured into the inner corner of the eye from a height of about 10 centimeters so that the water drains outwards. Care should be taken not to spread the substance to other areas of the face. The affected eye should then be bandaged in a sterile manner.

If a corrosive chemical has been swallowed, victims are advised to drink water in small sips. Under no circumstances should those affected vomit.

Chemical Burn