Electrical burns: First aid
Medically reviewed on January 18, 2018
Electrical burns may be caused by a number of sources of electricity, such as lightning, stun guns and contact with household current. You may treat minor electrical burns as you would other minor burns.
When to contact your doctor
A person who has been injured by contact with electricity should be seen by a doctor. Sometimes an electrical injury can cause damage to internal tissues, usually in an arm or a leg. The damage may be worse than one would expect from the burn on the skin.
- Don't touch the injured person if he or she is still in contact with the electrical current.
- Call 911 or your local emergency number if the source of the burn is a high-voltage wire or lightning. Don't get near high-voltage wires until the power is turned off. Overhead power lines usually aren't insulated. Stay at least 20 feet (about 6 meters) away — farther if wires are jumping and sparking.
- Don't move a person with an electrical injury unless the person is in immediate danger.
When to seek emergency care
Call 911 or your local emergency number if the injured person experiences:
- Severe burns
- Difficulty breathing
- Heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias)
- Cardiac arrest
- Muscle pain and contractions
- Loss of consciousness
Take these actions immediately while waiting for medical help:
- Turn off the source of electricity if possible. If not, move the source away from both you and the injured person using a dry, nonconducting object made of cardboard, plastic or wood.
- Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.
- Try to prevent the injured person from becoming chilled.
- Apply a bandage. Cover any burned areas with a sterile gauze bandage, if available, or a clean cloth. Don't use a blanket or towel, because loose fibers can stick to the burns.