Chemical burns occur when corrosive or irritant chemicals react with one or more biochemical components in the eye or skin, resulting in partial or complete destruction of cells. The severity of a chemical burn depends on the number of damaged body cells.

Chemical burns caused by corrosive chemicals can lead to much more serious consequences.

The chemicals that cause chemical burns are: Acids, Bases, Oxidizing Agents, Reducing Agents, Chelating Agents, Alkylating Agents, or Solvents.

Chemical burns occur as a result of contact with corrosive and irritating chemicals on the skin and eyes.

With this contact, changes occur in the physiological structure of the tissues due to the reaction.

The severity of a chemical burn is primarily determined by the following factors:

  • The type and concentration of the chemical
  • The temperature (the energy generated)
  • The duration of contact

The severity of a chemical burn is also dependent on physical factors such as pressure, temperature, area of contact, and the condition of the affected tissues.

The mechanism of a chemical burn consists of 3 steps:

  1. Contact between the tissue and the chemical substance,
    During contact: The skin and eye tissues resist penetration by the chemical substance in the first 10 seconds.

  2. Penetration of the chemical substance into the tissue,
    During penetration: The chemical substance begins to penetrate between 10 seconds and 1 minute. Only injuries that are reversible occur at this stage.

  3. Reaction resulting from the displacement of body components by the chemical substance (Tissue damage)

The chemical reaction stage begins: 1 minute later. In this stage, injury occurs. The severity of chemical injury is largely dependent on the aggressiveness of the chemical substance. Additionally, the type, concentration, temperature, and pressure of the chemical substance also affect the injury. Depending on these factors and the duration of contact, injuries can develop irreversibly. As a result, in some cases, surgical intervention may be necessary.

Hydrofluoric Acid (HF) Burn:

Hydrofluoric acid is a strong organic acid. It is hazardous at all concentrations. It has two effects. It is corrosive and toxic at the same time.

Due to the effect of H+ ions in eye or skin tissues, it is corrosive, and due to the chelating effect of F- ions on calcium, it is toxic.

  • The corrosive effect of H+ ions attacks the surface tissues,
  • The toxic effect of F- ions, due to the chelating effect of the acid on the upper layer of the skin, penetrates into the skin and binds to calcium in the body. This leads to biochemical, cellular, and tissue disorders.

Especially in high-concentration products, hypocalcemia (calcium loss) due to HF can cause problems with heart rhythm and its consequences can range from heart attack to death.

Therefore, contact of even a small part of the body with hydrofluoric acid can be fatal.

*Depending on the concentration of HF:

  • More than 50%: Sudden pain and visible tissue damage,
  • Between 20-50%: Pain within 1 to 8 hours after contact
  • 0-20%: Pain and burns 24 hours after contact

*REFERENCE: American National Institutes of Health Industrial Hygiene Section; has classified burns into three different concentrations.

How Does a Chemical Lesion Occur?