How to treat an acid skin burn

Written by sarah coennen
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Acid spills most commonly occur in the home. Different forms of acids can be found in household cleaners, such as bleach, and in cars, such as battery acid. Most acid burns are minor, but there have been rare cases of death in acid burns. Burns most frequently occur on the arms or legs because of exposed skin. Other places include the face, neck and stomach areas. Symptoms of an acid burn include redness, irritation, and in some instances, seizures, dizziness and fatigue. Acid burns can be deceiving injuries, because what may appear to be a topical burn can have deep tissue damage and be the cause of other serious symptoms, such as seizures. Treating the burn initially, however, is quite simple.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Soft cloth
  • Cool compress
  • Cloth bandages

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    Treating the Burn

  1. 1

    Remove the cause of the burn. If a liquid acid is spilt, it is acceptable to dab the burn with towels and/or the clothing that already has the liquid on it. Do not rub the liquid off. This will prevent the burn from spreading. If a powder is spilt, brush it off as quickly as possible with a dry cloth.

  2. 2

    Run cool water over the burn for at least 15 minutes. The burn has been flushed sufficiently once all of the acid residue has been removed, and the person is experiencing pain relief.

  3. 3

    Apply cold, wet compresses, such as an ice pack covered in a wet washcloth, to the burn as soon as possible after it occurs. This will offer pain relief. It is recommended to apply the cold compress for 15 to 20 minutes, and then remove it for 15 minutes. Repeat as often as necessary.

  4. 4

    Wrap up the burn with sterile self-adhering cloth bandages.

  5. 5

    Avoid unnecessary pressure or friction to the burn site. This can be accomplished by not putting clothing on top of the burn, or if the burn is in an area where clothing is inevitable, then wear loose-fitting, breathable materials, such as cotton, instead of spandex or polyester. Do not lean or let anyone else lean on the burn area to avoid unnecessary pain, soreness, or inflammation.

Tips and warnings

  • Do not treat acids with vinegar. Vinegars counteract bases, so using them to treat acid burns is like adding fuel to the fire. If systemic reactions should occur, drive to the ER immediately.
  • For minor burns, flushing and maybe some triple antibiotic cream should heal it. For more serious burns, the doctor may prescribe medications or have an IV administered to normalise heart rate and blood pressure.
  • If the burn victim shows sign of shock, treat accordingly by applying blankets, monitoring the pulse, and never leaving their side. If symptoms do not lessen, call an ambulance right away or drive the victim to the emergency room.
  • If acid gets in the eyes, flush immediately for 15 minutes with cool water, and then lay moist cloths on the eyelids. Rush the victim to the emergency room. Remove all excess clothing that contains any acid.

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