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What Is an Electrical Injury?

An electrical injury (also called electric shock) is an injury resulting from contact with an electric current. How bad the injury is depends on the strength of the current, its path through the body, and how long the contact with it was. Burns, problems with the heart and brain, and other injuries to the body can occur. People who survive an electric shock usually recover, but if the shock was severe, they may have lasting health problems.

What Causes an Electrical Injury?

Electrical injuries are usually caused by accidents with electrical appliances, wiring, or machinery. Sometimes a lightning strike can cause these injuries.

What Are the Symptoms of an Electrical Injury?

Symptoms depend on how bad the shock was. Immediate symptoms include numbness, tingling, or pain; burns; confusion or loss of memory; problems speaking; shortness of breath; and headache. Others are seizures, paralysis (inability to move), hearing loss, and loss of consciousness. Broken bones can result from a fall after the shock.

Long-term effects of more serious electrical injuries include burns, psychological problems, altered state of mind, and eye, heart, and internal injuries.

How Is an Electrical Injury Diagnosed?

The health care provider makes a diagnosis from the medical history, as well as how the electrical injury occurred. The health care provider will do a physical examination, blood tests, and maybe a urinalysis. Other tests may be done, depending on how severe the shock was, including chest X-ray, electrocardiography (ECG), and brain computed tomography (CT). The ECG records the heart’s rhythm.

How Is an Electrical Injury Treated?

Treatment depends on the seriousness of the injury. Sometimes, a hospital visit is needed. Dressings are applied to burns. Oxygen is given for breathing difficulties. Broken bones will be treated. Fluid and medicines, either by mouth or through a vein, may be given.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Electrical Injury:

  • DO follow your doctor’s directions.
  • DO tell your health care provider about your other medical problems.
  • DO tell your health care provider about your medicines, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • DO exert caution around electrical equipment, in the home and at work.
  • DO make sure your hands are dry before you use an electrical appliance or turn on a switch.
  • DO disconnect electrical appliances before trying to repair or fix them.
  • DO make sure that small children aren’t exposed to electrical hazards. Use plastic safety covers in electrical sockets.
  • DO unplug electrical appliances once you finish with them, especially hairdryers and electric shavers. Put them out of reach of children.
  • DON’T turn on an electrical appliance or a switch with wet hands.
  • DON’T give electric blankets to children younger than 2 years old or to those who wet the bed.
  • DON’T use a frayed or damaged electrical cord.
  • DON’T use extension cords or space heaters in the bathroom.
  • DON’T use electrical appliances such as hairdryers or radios near full bathtubs or sinks.
  • DON’T try to fix household wiring yourself. Get a qualified electrician for this.

Contact the following sources:

  • U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration
  • US Consumer Product Safety Commission
  • Lightning Injury Research Program Department of Emergency Medicine (M/C 724)
    University of Illinois at Chicago
    Tel: (312) 413-7489
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Copyright © 2017 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

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