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Chemical burns occur when the eyes, nose, mouth, or skin are damaged by contact with a chemical substance. This can be done by direct contact with the chemical or by contact with the vapors.
The symptoms of a chemical burn can vary according to the depth of the burn:
- In a first-degree chemical burn, the skin is reddened and wet. The burned area hurts, whitens (fades) on light touch, but does not develop bubbles.
- Second degree chemical burns are pink or red, swollen and extremely painful. Within 24 hours (often shortly after burning), bubbles appear, from which a clear liquid can escape. Again, the redness is whitish when touched.
- Third-degree chemical burns are generally not painful, as the nerves have been destroyed. The skin becomes leathery and can turn white, black or light red. The redness is no longer bright when touched, the hair can be pulled out easily and painlessly with the root.
Severe burns, second- or third-degree deep burns, burns in young children or the very elderly, and burns of the hands, feet, face, and genitals are best treated at specialist clinics. These hospitals specialize in equipment and staffing for the treatment of burn victims.
Chemical, or caustic, burns occur as a result of the contact of body tissues with such chemicals as bases (alkaline substances), solvents or acids that can cause damage to the skin, mucous membranes, eyes, muscles or, if chemicals were swallowed, internal organs. Most of the chemical burns are subject for emergency care because even small, at first sight, burns can cause greater damage than it may seem, as some of them are able to penetrate deeper into the tissues and can be evident only eventually.
Types of Chemical Burns
The classification of chemical burns based on the depth is nearly the same as for thermal burns:
- First Degree Burn. Only the epidermis (the outer skin layer) is damaged.
- Second Degree Burn. The dermis (the inner skin layer) is also injured.
- Third Degree Burn. Not only the skin, but also related subcutaneous tissue is injured.
Chemical burns can be caused by direct contact of the skin with the chemical, inhaling evaporation and swallowing of the substance causing the burn. Severity of chemical burns depends on many factors, such as:
- A type and strength of the agent you are exposed to
- The quantity of the chemical
- Duration of exposure
- The location of burn
- The size of the exposed area
- The way the exposure has happened (contact, inhaling or swallowing)
- The length of time to decontamination
Symptoms of Chemical Burns
Depending on the type of chemicals and way of exposure, the signs and symptoms of chemical burns can be different. The most common symptoms in the affected area include:
- Redness or irritation
- Blackening of the skin (when the agent is acid)
- Vision changes (if contact site is the eyes)
If case of swallowing the chemical, you may have the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Irregular heartbeat
- Cardiac arrest
- Low blood pressure
- Muscles twitches
- Size of effected area
If you have swallowed the chemicals and have any the above symptoms, you should immediately turn to Emergency, as some of the conditions can be life threatening.
First Aid for Chemical Burns
In case of you or other person were exposed to chemicals causing the burn, immediate first aid is needed. If significant damage to the tissues is supposed, first, you should call to Emergency and, then, take measures that include the following:
- Remove yourself and/or a person injured from the site of exposure
- Remove any contaminated clothing or other things (as jewelries). Use gloves when doing.
- If there are some hard particles, first, brush them off.
- Rinse the skin properly to remove the chemicals. You should rinse the area during at least 15-20 minutes (for strong alkalis to 60 minutes) running water to ensure that no chemicals remain n the site of injury. Do not stop rinsing even you are transporting the injured person to a hospital. Make it possible to continue rinsing on the way.
- Make sure that no one is exposed to contaminated water.
- Apply a sterile bandage or clean cloth loosely.
- Take OTC painkillers if needed.
In case of swallowing of chemicals:
- Call to a poison control center to ensure whether a substance toxic or not
- Call to emergency if any wounds or damages are in the mouth
- Call to emergency if symptoms as breath shortness, irregular heartbeat, dizziness and vomiting are present
- If there is a vomiting, but you are not sure what was swallowed, give to emergence a sample of vomits for analyses
- If a person do not have breath do mouth-to-nose breathing
Chemical Burns Outcomes: Consideration on Surgery
Today, not many people die of chemical burns if have received timely and qualified medical assistance. Most of the chemical burns occur to the face, eyes, arms, hands and legs. Minor injuries normally do not cause noticeable marks, but severe chemical burns could lead to serious damages to the tissues and muscles, including:
- Loss of the functionality of the limbs
- Limb loss
There are also some psychological issues that with chemical burns may experience in long-term perspective, especially, in relation to permanent changes of appearance or limb functionality:
- Difficulties with adaptation in society
Happily, the modern plastic surgery can help a lot to people disfigured or lost some abilities in result of chemical burns. Reconstructive plastic surgery may be an option both for restoring limited abilities and improving appearance.
Plastic Surgery for Chemical Burns
Plastic surgery is the last stage in rehabilitation after a severe chemical burn that caused leaving unattractive scars or completely disfigured face. Often, it needs many stages and goes together with psychological assistance.
Cosmetic surgery clinics in Germany offer a wide range of services including step-by-step reconstruction and reshaping of the tissues damaged by injuries. The procedures following the chemical burn immediate treatment may include:
- Skin grafts. This is, as a rule, done in course of immediate treatment to replace large areas of damaged skin. The grafts are taken from other areas of the patient’s body normally closed with clothing and placed to the injured area. There are two types of skin grafts:
- Split-thickness graft. Only the epidermis is replaced. It takes 2-3 weeks for recovery.
- Full-thickness graft. The skin is replaced entirely. I may take as long to recover as 5-6 months.
- Microsurgery. It is used to reattach lost tissues using microscope, which allow reconstructing vessels and repairing damaged nerves. It often involved when there is a need to restore the mobility of paralyzed tissues and can be combined with other kinds of plastic surgery.
- Free flap. This procedure involves transferring donor tissues that may include skin, muscles and bone from the donor area of the body to the site of reconstruction. It is quite complicated surgery that required up to 7-8 weeks for recovery with proper wound management in the both areas.
- Tissue expansion. The procedure of tissue expansion involves stimulating the own tissues of the patient to grow. It is performed by placing a balloon under the skin in the damaged area; the balloon is gradually filled with salt water stretching the skin and making it grown. After the skin has grown, another part of the surgery is undertaken, which is reshaping of the area. The whole procedure can take up to 4 months.
- Oral and maxillary surgery. This type of surgery allows reconstructing injured face to achieve normal functioning of the temporomandibular joints and face reshaping.
- Face transplantation. This is a quite rare procedure that may be required in case of an extremely severe damage of the face by chemicals when it becomes absolutely shapeless. The procedure is quite contradictory due to its complexity and immune response to the alien tissues. Happily, injuries of such degree that may require a face transplant are rare. Mostly, German plastic surgeons recommend oral and maxillary surgery. Ask for details and get a personal consultation.
German Medical Group: Find Your Clinic in Germany
German Medical Group (GMG) offers you not only the possibility to find a plastic surgery clinic in Germany, but we also help you to settle all the necessary formalities with clinics, organize your trip and book accommodation. All what you need is send an inquiry describing your problem and we will suggest you the best clinic and the best doctor in the field you are interested. Contact us to have full range service in organizing your treatment in Germany.