Electrocution burn injuries can range from mild to life-threatening. The severity of the burn which is caused by electrocution is dependent on several factors. Treatment of electrocution burn injuries includes not only treatment of the burn itself, but also any other injuries that may occur as a result of being electrocuted.
Children who suffer electrocution burn injuries typically experience these injuries in the home; in adults, these injuries are most often the result of industrial accidents. Each year, approximately 1000 people are killed due to electrocution injuries.
The extent and severity of electrocution burn injuries is dependent upon the following factors:
- Current strength- a measure of the amount of energy that flows through the body
- Resistance to current flow- dependent upon the water and electrolyte content of the tissue through which the current is being directed. Nerves, blood vessels and muscles have low resistance and conduct electricity more than bone, skin and fat.
- Voltage-high-voltage injuries are typically more severe than low-voltage injuries
- Duration of contact- longer duration of contact with an electrical source is associated with more severe injuries than a shorter duration of contact
- Pathway of current flow- refers to the direction that electrical energy travels through the body; electrical energy that travels through vital organs such as the brain, heart or lungs will produce more devastating injuries than through an extremity alone
- Type of current- alternating current (AC) is considered more dangerous due to the fact that AC current causes muscle tetany that tends to prolong contact with the energy source; DC (direct current) results in brief exposure to the energy source before the victim is thrown clear
Treatment of electrocution burn injuries proceeds as with any other trauma. The ABCs are addressed first (airway, breathing and circulation) and any alterations in breathing or circulations are immediately tended to, regardless of the severity of burns. If the victim has suffered an arrhythmia due to an electrocution injury, defibrillation must be performed. Electrocution often depolarizes the heart, causing ventricular fibrillation; unless this condition is reversed with the application of electrical energy (defibrillation), the victim will not survive.
Once the patient has been stabilized, attention turns to determining whether the electrocution caused any secondary injuries. Bone fractures, head injuries, spinal cord injuries and damage to internal organs can occur if the victim falls or is thrown from the source of electricity. Electrocution burns may be severe and should be treated only after the patient is stable. Patients who are victims of electrocution burn injuries may need specialized care of their burns in burn centers and may require extensive treatment if the burn injuries are severe. Generally speaking, victims who survive the initial electrocution injury will do well; those victims who require prolonged resuscitation and transport may not survive.
Most electrocution burn injuries are preventable. Prevention of these types of injuries in the home requires education on appliance safety and outlet covers. Children should be taught about the risks of electrocution as soon as they are old enough to understand. In the workplace, prevention should be targeted towards those who work in the trades that are most likely to be exposed to the dangers of electricity.