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Alkali Burns

Topic Overview

Alkaline products include lime products, plaster and mortar, oven and drain cleaners, dishwasher powders, fertilizers, and sparks from "sparklers." They can cause serious damage in a very short time, depending on the type, strength, and the length of time the alkali is in contact with the body. Alkaline chemicals are able to penetrate and damage the deeper layers of 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 chemical burn remove the chemical 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 alkali burns are made worse if rinsed (flushed) with water.

  • Dry powders, such as dry lime, are brushed away first, because adding water can make a liquid that burns. After the powder is brushed away, flush with water for 20 minutes.
  • 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
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 27, 2012

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