Facts on Electrical Injuries
- Electrical injury occurs when an electric current runs through a portion of the body, usually from either a man-made source or lightning.
- The outside of the person’s body may appear to have only minor injuries, but internal injuries may still be significant.
- As current enters the body (source), it causes surface to deep burns, damages muscle and organs as it passes through the body, and eventually exits at another distant point (ground), which causes a second burn or wound.
- The electrical current may trigger irregular heartbeat or stop the heart entirely.
- Among man-made sources, direct current (DC) tends to throw people from the source after one shock.
- Alternating current (AC) is more dangerous. AC causes muscle spasms that often prolong contact with the power source, which increases the extent of the injury.
Electrical Injury Symptoms
- Source and ground burns caused by electric current may be second to third degree and limited in size. If the current passes along the skin, the tissue may have extensive partial thickness burns (second degree).
- People who have an electrical injury may be confused, be disoriented, suffer hearing loss, and feel weak.
- Severe cases involve heartbeat irregularities or cause the heart to stop, requiring immediate cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR).
Electrical Injuries Treatment
- Electrical burns should be treated appropriately.
- If the person with the electrical injury is near the power source (such as a live wire), do not approach. Call 911.
- Unconscious people with electrical injuries should be assessed for CPR needs.
- If significant electrical injury has occurred, the neck and back should be protected from further injury. Try to avoid moving the injured person.
When to Seek Medical Care for Electrical Injuries
- All people who have an electrical injury with significant burns, even if the burn area is small, should be evaluated for muscle injury.
- All burns around the mouth, especially in small children, require medical evaluation.
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Medically reviewed by Avrom Simon, MD; Board Certified Preventative Medicine with Subspecialty in Occupational Medicine
"Environmental and weapon-related electrical injuries"