HomeHealth articleselectrical burnsWhat Are Electrical Burns?

Electrical Burns and Injuries - An Overview

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An electrical burn occurs when the current passes through the body. The body generates heat due to current and interferes with the function of internal organs.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At October 5, 2022
Reviewed AtJanuary 18, 2024

What Are Electrical Burns on the Skin?

When electric currents contact the human body, they lead to an electric burn on the skin. It can damage the tissue, skin, and major organs. The damage can be mild, moderate, or severe. Sometimes, it can be fatal, too. Electric burns on the skin are caused by touching an electrical current that comes from a source of electricity. The etiology of the electrical burn depends on current flow, voltage, and tissue resistance.

The electric burn on the skin occurs either by direct contact with the current on the tissue or by heat generation. The type of electric current, the magnitude of the current, and the voltage affect the seriousness of the burn. Electrical burns are classified as pure electric burns or associated with other etiology. Pure electric burns are of two types: high-voltage and low-voltage. Flash burns come under the category of burns associated with other etiology.

What Are the Causes of Electrical Burn?

Electrical burns on the skin may be caused by several sources such as household appliances, lighting, exposed wiring, faulty appliances, old wiring, stun guns, loose connectors, and a lack of preventive devices such as ground fault circuit interrupters.

What Are the Types of Electrical Skin Burns?

Depending upon the type of skin layers, the electric burns on the skin can be classified as:

  • Superficial or First-Degree Burn: Affects only the topmost layer of the skin. The skin becomes red and painful. It usually heals in around seven to ten days.

  • Partial-Thickness or Second-Degree Burn: Affects the top two layers of the skin. The skin becomes red, fluid-filled, or forms blisters. The healing process can take one to three weeks.

  • Full-thickness or Third-Degree Burn: Affects all layers of the skin. The skin can be white, gray, or black. Pain is often not experienced because the sensory nerve endings are usually destroyed. Sometimes, the muscle and fat beneath an electric burn are visible. It takes two to three months to heal.

What Is Electrical Burn Tissue Resistance?

Tissue resistance plays an integral role in electrical burn injury physiology. As resistance is achieved, the current flows through the underlying tissue. The body is a conductor, and current flows through the tissues involved. Bone has the highest tissue resistance, while nerve has the lowest.

What Are the Symptoms of Electrical Burn?

When the current passes through the body, many symptoms can occur, ranging from minor to severe or even death. Symptoms depend on the length of exposure, amount, and intensity of electricity. Symptoms may be:

  • Severe muscle spasm.

  • Broken skin.

  • Numbness or tingling.

  • Weakness or lightheadedness.

  • Headache.

  • Confusion.

  • Seizure (sudden and uncontrolled electrical disturbance in the brain).

  • Loss of consciousness.

  • Vision changes.

  • Difficulty swallowing.

  • Hearing problems.

  • Irregular heartbeat.

  • Difficulty breathing.

Organs that are commonly damaged include:-

  • Heart which is commonly affected and leads to abnormal heart rate and may lead to heart failure.

  • The kidney might get affected and may stop working.

  • Bones and muscles.

  • The nervous system, if affected, may lead to muscle weakness and eye or ear damage.

How to Diagnose Electrical Burns?

Diagnosis is based on symptoms and events.

  • An electrocardiogram (ECG) checks the heart rate and rhythm.

  • Chest X-ray is done when a patient has cardiac or respiratory arrest, shortness of breath, or chest pain.

  • A urine test is done to monitor resuscitation in the body.

  • Blood test.

  • Computed tomography (CT) scan of the head if a person has altered mental status, seizure, significant trauma, focal neurologic deficits, or loss of consciousness.

  • Evaluation for any spinal cord injury.

  • Serial evaluation of liver, pancreatic, and renal (kidney) function for traumatic injury.

  • Ophthalmologic (eye examination) evaluation in case of lightning injury.

What Are the Management or Treatment Modalities of Electrical Burns?

Electrical burns on the skin need care and immediate treatment. Treatment depends upon the severity of the burn injury. Less severe symptoms may require careful observation; mild or minor burns can be treated with ointments and dressings, while severe shocks and injuries need emergency care.

  • The source of electricity should be turned off after work is done.

  • Move the source away with the help of insulating objects such as plastic, cardboard, or wood.

  • Debriding the dead tissue and blister remnants aids in effective healing.

  • Moisturize the affected area to promote new skin formation.

  • Silver Sulfadiazine, Mafenide, or Silver nitrate are used as an ointment.

  • Pain medications such as Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen.

  • Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) is used if a person shows no sign of circulation or breathing.

  • Intravenous (IV) fluids are given to restore balance in the body.

  • Surgery is done in cases of deep burns.

What Are the Preventive Measures of Electrical Burns?

Measures to reduce the risk of electrical burns on the skin are as follows:

  • Keep electric cords out of children’s reach.

  • Use child safety instructions when using an electric appliance.

  • Avoid being out in the lightning storm.

  • Use child safety plugs.

  • Follow safety instructions at work, office, and outdoors.

  • A distance of twenty feet should be maintained from the overhead power lines.

  • Do not touch the injured person when in contact with electrical currents.

  • Call emergency services if the person is caught with a high-voltage current.

  • Hold the plug rather than pulling on the cord when removing an appliance from a socket.

  • The person experiencing the current should be moved away from the source using non-conducting substances.

  • Never insert foreign objects into an electrical socket.

  • Do not use electrical appliances near water sources.

  • Check electrical cords and replace them when worn off or cracked.

What Are the Complications of Electrical Burn?

The commonest complication of an electrical injury is an infection. At the same time, some people suffer from seizures, anxiety, personality change, depression, cardiac arrest, chest injury, compartment syndrome, renal failure, myoglobinuria, osteomyelitis, and vascular injuries.


Safety measures are the foremost important precaution while handling electrical devices. An individual should always read the instructions before using and handling electronics. Electric burns may be fatal. Electric burns often lead to esthetic and functional consequences. Public education regarding electrical safety and safe use according to specifications of electric appliances at home and work is the best means of eliminating any accidents and electrical injuries.

Frequently Asked Questions


What Are the Major Electrical Injuries?

The major electrical injuries are:
 - Electric Shock: When an individual gets a shock through an electric current.
 - Arc Flash: Electric fault can cause the condition.
 - Burns.
 - Electrical explosions.


What Are the Other Synonyms for an Electrical Burn?

The other names of electrical burns are:
 - High-voltage burns.
 - Low-voltage burns.
 - Thermal burns.
 - Flash burns


What Are the Rules for an Electrical Burn?

The rules for an electrical burn are as follows:
 - Ensure safety by cutting the power.
 - Call for an emergency.
 - Check the patient's breathing while waiting for an ambulance. If there is no breathing then CPR can be given.
 - Do not remove the burnt clothes.
 - Cool the burn area with cold water.
 - Dressing over the burn.


What Is the Classification of Burns?

The classification of burns are:
 - Thermal Burns: When a burn is caused by any hot object.
 - Chemical Burns: When a burn is caused by chemicals such as acids.
 - Electrical Burns: When a burn is caused by an electric current.
 - Radiation Burns: When a burn is caused by strong radiations such as X-rays.


How Can Electrical Burns Be Avoided?

Electrical burns can be avoided by: 
 - Educating people about electrical safety.
 - Maintenance of electrical equipment and systems.
 - Use ground fault circuit interrupters.
 - Proper use of electrical equipment.
 - Use protective equipment.
 - Avoid contact with water.
 - Keep or educate children to stay away from electrical equipment.


Where Do Electrical Burns Begin?

Electrical burns begin at a point where the electricity comes in contact with the body part. The burns can start from the point of touch and spread to the other tissues. When an individual stands on the wet area and touches the electrical wire then the burn can spread all over the body.


What Is the Fluid Option for Electric Burns?

When an individual has electric burns then the fluid option is cold water. This will reduce tissue damage. The fluid option also depends on the time of electric burns. People should not use ice because it will constrict the vessels and cause tissue damage. Use chemical-free cool water.


What Is Primary Electrical Safety?

The primary electrical safety tips are:
 - Use electrical equipment with care.
 - Unplug electrical devices before using them.
 - Regularly check electrical cords.
 - Avoid overloading outlets.
 - Keep electrical equipment away from children.


What Is the Threat of Electric Accidents?

The threat of electric burn are:
 - Electric shock.
 - Arc flash.
 - Explosions or fires.
 - Falls.
 - Secondary hazards like hazardous substances.


How Can an Individual Find an Electric Burn?

The signs of electric burns are:
 - Deep tissue damage.
 - Skin discoloration (black-colored).
 - Skin blisters.
 - Jagged wound edges.
 - Fractures, dislocations, and muscle contractions.
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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)


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