Electrical Injury  

You have been injured by an electrical shock. The effects of an electrical shock depend on the type of current that caused it. Current can be AC, as in your house. Or it can be DC, as in most cars. Electrical injury can also occur from a lightning strike. The effect also depends on the voltage, the length of time you were in contact with the electrical current, and the path the current took through your body. The effect may be minor or serious. It may cause only a brief, tingling pain or a shallow flash burn. Or the damage may be deeper burns of the skin and muscle.

Healthcare providers can’t always tell how serious your injury is just by looking at the burn. The electricity can also harm nerves, muscles, bones, and even your heart and brain as it passes through your body. You will need tests to look for internal injury. Sometimes the signs of this damage may not be seen for the first few days. You should watch for the signs listed below. Minor burns are treated by putting antibiotic ointment and dressings on the burn. More serious burns may need surgery or skin grafts.

Home care

Follow these guidelines when caring for yourself at home:

  • Rest the injured part until the soreness is gone.

  • Unless told otherwise, change your bandage once a day. Soak it in warm water if it sticks to your skin.

  • Wash the area with soap and water and look for signs of infection. Put cream or ointment and a bandage on the area as advised.

  • You may use over-the-counter medicine to control pain, unless another pain medicine was prescribed. If you have chronic liver or kidney disease, talk with your healthcare provider before taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Also talk with your provider if you’ve had a stomach ulcer or gastrointestinal bleeding.

  • Don’t pick or scratch at the affected areas. Use an over-the-counter medicine such as diphenhydramine to ease itching.

Prevention

  • Use outlet covers or newer tamper-resistant outlets to protect babies and young children from electrical outlets.

  • Teach young children that they can be injured by playing with power cords that are broken or cracked. Look at power and extension cords. Replace any that are damaged. Teach children not to play with power cords.

  • Advise older children and teens about the danger of high-power systems. Most injuries occur while climbing on power towers or playing near transformers or electrified train rails.

  • Always check that the power is turned off before working on electrical circuits. Don’t stand on wet areas when working with electrical systems.

  • If you have 2-prong (ungrounded) outlets in your home, upgrade to 3-prong (grounded) systems. Replace outlets near sinks, showers, or tubs with fused (GFCI) outlets.

Follow-up care

Follow up with you healthcare provider, or as advised. Most electrical burns heal without getting infected. But sometimes an infection may occur. Check the wound daily for the signs of infection listed below.

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Pain gets worse in the area of the injury

  • Redness or swelling that gets worse

  • Pus coming from the wound

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Size of the burn area gets larger

  • Muscle pain or soreness gets worse when you move the area

  • Dark-colored urine during the next 24 hours

  • Any changes in vision

  • Wounds that don’t seem to be getting better

  • Nausea or vomiting 

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