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Alkali Burns

British Columbia Specific Information

Burns can damage your skin and other body tissues. Burns can be caused by heat, cold injuries, exposure to chemicals, and electrical injuries. For any of these injuries, it is important that you receive first aid right away to stop further damage and even save your life. For information on first aid for burns, see Burns and Electric Shock Home Treatment.

If you are concerned about a possible chemical burn, call Poison Control right away at 1-800-567-8911 toll-free in British Columbia or 604-682-5050 in Greater Vancouver. If you have an injury caused by a chemical burn, you should see a health care provider right away.

For more information on chemical burns, visit British Columbia Drug and Poison Information Centre. If you are concerned about a serious burn, call 9-1-1. For more information or if you are not sure whether to contact a health care provider, call 8-1-1 and speak to one of our registered nurses anytime of the day or night.

Topic Overview

Alkaline products include lime products, plaster and mortar, oven and drain cleaners, dishwasher powders, fertilizers, and sparks from "sparklers." They can cause serious damage in a very short time, depending on the type, strength, and the length of time the alkali is in contact with the body. Alkaline chemicals are able to penetrate and damage the deeper layers of tissue.

When a chemical burn occurs, find out what chemical caused the burn.Call a Poison Control Centre immediately for more information about how to treat the burn. When you call the Poison Control Centre, have the chemical container with you, so you can read the contents label to the Poison Control staff member.

Most chemical burns are treated first by rinsing (flushing) the chemical off your body with a large amount of cool water, but not all chemicals are treated this way. It is important to treat the burn correctly to avoid further complications.

Chemical burns rinsed with water

  • Immediately rinse with a large amount of cool water. Rinsing within 1 minute of the burn can reduce the risk of complications.
  • Flush the area for at least 20 minutes.
    • Do not use a hard spray of water because it can damage the burned area.
    • Have the person with the chemical burn remove the chemical if he or she is able.
    • Put on gloves to protect yourself from the chemical, if you need to remove it.
  • As you flush the area, take off any clothing or jewellery that has the chemical on it.
  • If the area still has a burning sensation after 20 minutes, flush the area again with flowing water for 10 to 15 minutes.

Chemical burns not rinsed with water

Some alkali burns are made worse if rinsed (flushed) with water.

  • Dry powders, such as dry lime, are brushed away first, because adding water can make a liquid that burns. After the powder is brushed away, flush with water for 20 minutes.
  • Metal compounds are covered with mineral oil.

The most important first aid for a chemical in the eye is to immediately flush the substance out with large amounts of water to reduce the chance of serious eye damage. For any chemical burn to the eye, see the topic Burns to the Eye.

Credits

Current as of:
July 1, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
William H. Blahd Jr. MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine
Martin J. Gabica MD - Family Medicine