burns (chemical)

Last reviewed 01/2018

Most involve strong acids or alkalis but phosphorous and phenol may also cause burns. Toxic effects of chemicals may be local or systemic depending on their chemical composition, circumstances, level of exposure and individual susceptibility.

Basic management:

  • copious irrigation with running water - for at least 20 minutes
  • remove contaminated clothing - wear gloves
  • do not attempt to neutralise acid with alkali, or alkali with acid, as this usually produces an exothermic reaction and further injury
  • replace fluids as with thermal burns

Hydrofluoric acid burns:

  • neutralise with calcium gluconate jelly - not associated with exothermic reaction
  • subcutaneous injection of calcium gluconate - indicated if pain and burning persist


  • polyethylene glycol increases solubility and may aid irrigation
  • glycerol neutralises
  • toxic quantities may be absorbed through the skin or mucous membranes


  • immerse in water
  • remove as much embedded material as possible