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First Aid and Emergencies

Electrical Burns

Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Electrical burns are a medical emergency. An electrical burn may look minor on the outside, but electricity can cause serious internal damage, including burns and heart rhythm disturbances.


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  • Keep electrical cords out of the reach of small children and pets. Plug bare electrical sockets with plastic inserts.

  • Have frayed power cords on electric appliances replaced.

  • Unplug lamps before replacing light bulbs. Turn off the power at the circuit breaker when replacing bulbs in ceiling or wall lights.

  • Unplug all appliances (including your computer) when making minor repairs.

  • During a lightning storm, take cover inside a car, large building, or house, or seek low ground. Do not stand under a tree during a lightning storm.

    Are Sutures Necessary?

    For best results, cuts that need stitches should be sutured within 8 hours. Wash the cut well with soap and water and stop the bleeding; then pinch the sides of the cut together. If it looks better, you may want to consider stitches. If stitches are needed, avoid using an antibiotic ointment until after a health professional has examined the cut.

    Sutures may be needed for:

    • Deep cuts (more than 0.6 cm or 0.25 inch deep) that have jagged edges or gape open.

    • Deep cuts on a joint: elbow, knuckle, knee.

    • Deep cuts on the palm side of the hand or fingers.

    • Cuts on the face, eyelids, or lips.

    • Cuts in an area where you are worried about scarring, especially the face.

    • Cuts that go down to the muscle or bone.

    • Cuts that continue to bleed after you apply direct pressure for 15 minutes.

    Cuts like these that are sutured usually heal with less scarring than similar cuts that are not sutured.

    Sutures may not be needed for:

    • Cuts with smooth edges that tend to stay together during normal movement of the affected body part.

    • Shallow cuts that are less than 0.6 cm ( 0.25 inch) deep and less than 2.5 cm (1 inch) long.

Home Treatment

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  • Do not approach a victim who has been electrocuted until you are sure the area surrounding the victim is safe. Disconnect the power source if possible. If you feel tingling in your lower body, turn around and hop to a safe place.

  • Do not attempt to move wires off of a victim unless you are sure the power has been disconnected.

  • If it is safe to approach the victim, check ABCs (Airway, Breathing, Circulation). If necessary, begin rescue breathing and CPR. See Rescue Breathing and CPR.

  • To prevent shock, raise the victim's legs 20 to 30 cm (8 to 12 inches) and keep the victim warm.

  • Cover burns with dry, sterile dressing.

When to Call a Health Professional

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  • Call 911 or seek emergency services immediately:

    • If a person who has been electrocuted stops breathing or has no pulse.

    • If a person who has been electrocuted fell and may have a spinal injury.

  • Call your doctor for any electrical burn. Even an electrical burn that looks minor can be serious and needs to be evaluated.


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