Chemical Burns Overview
A chemical burn is irritation and destruction of human tissue caused by exposure to a chemical, usually by direct contact with the chemical or its fumes. Chemical burns can occur in the home, at work or school, or as a result of accident or assault. Although few people in the United States die after contact with chemicals in the home, many substances common in both living and storage areas can do serious harm.
Many chemical burns occur accidentally through misuse of products such as those for hair, skin, and nail care. Although injuries do occur at home, the risk of sustaining a chemical burn is much greater in the workplace, especially in businesses and manufacturing plants that use large quantities of chemicals.
Most chemical burns are caused by either strong acids or strong bases (for example, hydrochloric acid or sodium hydroxide). Acids damage and kill cells by coagulating cells while bases liquefy cells. Prolonged exposure can severely damage human tissues and, if the patient survives, leads to scarring and disability. Other chemicals like oxidants and certain metals may also produce similar chemical burns. Limiting the time of exposure to any of these chemicals can greatly reduce their damaging effects.
Unfortunately, some chemical burn agents are designed to harm people (chemical agents used in wars and in terrorist attacks). It is not the scope of this article to cover these agents.
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