Understanding Electrical Injuries: Types And Symptoms
Electrical injuries are a serious and potentially life-threatening problem in various settings, including the workplace, home, and outdoors. These injuries can be caused by exposure to high-voltage electrical sources, lightning strikes, or contact with electrical currents in the water. Understanding the types and symptoms of electrical injuries is crucial for preventing them from occurring and providing prompt medical treatment when they do.
This blog will explore the different types of electrical injuries, their symptoms, and how to treat them effectively. By the end of this blog, you will better understand how to stay safe around electricity and recognize and respond to electrical injuries.
Risks From Electricity
Harm can be caused to any person when exposed to ‘live parts’ that are either touched directly or indirectly using some conducting object or material. Voltages over 50 volts AC or 120 volts DC are considered hazardous. Electricity can kill. Each year about 1000 accidents at work involving electric shocks or burns are reported to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Around 30 of these are fatal, most arising from contact with overhead or underground power cables.
Electricity is a powerful and essential energy source, but it also poses significant risks to human safety and property. Some of the main risks associated with electricity include:
- Electrical shock: Electrical shock occurs when an electric current passes through the body. This can cause burns, muscle contractions, and even death. Electrical shock can occur when working with electrical equipment, using damaged or faulty electrical appliances, or coming into contact with live wires or electrical circuits.
- Fire: Electricity can cause fires if electrical equipment, wiring, or appliances become overloaded or damaged. Electrical fires can be hazardous because they can spread quickly and may be difficult to extinguish.
- Explosions: Electrical explosions can occur if electrical equipment, such as transformers or capacitors, fail or malfunction. These explosions can cause significant property damage and may also result in severe injury or death.
- Electromagnetic fields (EMFs): Electromagnetic fields are generated by electrical currents and can be found in various settings, including around power lines, transformers, and electrical appliances. Some studies suggest that long-term exposure to high EMF levels may increase the risk of specific health problems like cancer.
- Lightning: Lightning is a natural form of electricity that can strike buildings, trees, and people. Lightning strikes can cause fires, explosions, and electrical shocks and can be fatal.
To reduce the risk of electrical accidents and injuries, following safety guidelines when working with electrical equipment, appliances, and wiring is essential. This includes appropriately grounding electrical equipment, avoiding using damaged or faulty appliances, and avoiding contact with live wires or circuits. Additionally, it is essential to seek immediate medical attention if you experience an electrical shock or injury.
Types Of Electrical Injuries
Several types of electrical injuries can occur, each with its own set of symptoms and potential complications. The four main types of electrical injuries include:
1. Electrical shock
Electrical shock occurs when an electric current passes through the human body. This can happen when a person comes into direct contact with a live electrical source, such as touching an exposed wire, using faulty electrical equipment, or even being struck by lightning. The severity of the injury is determined by factors such as the voltage, the type of current (AC or DC), the resistance of the body, and the duration of exposure.
The symptoms of electrical shock can vary greatly, depending on the severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include:
- Muscle contractions and pain
- Numbness and tingling sensations
- Difficulty breathing
- Irregular heartbeat or cardiac arrest
- Loss of consciousness
- Burns at the point of contact
Electrical burns occur when electrical energy is converted into thermal energy, causing damage to the skin and underlying tissues. These burns can be caused by direct contact with live electrical sources, such as exposed wires or faulty equipment, or by the passage of electrical current through the body, which generates heat as it encounters resistance from the body’s tissues. The severity of the injury depends on factors such as the voltage, the type of current (AC or DC), the duration of exposure, and the individual’s body resistance.
The symptoms of electrical burns can vary, depending on the severity of the injury. Some common symptoms include:
- Discoloured skin at the point of contact, which may appear charred, white, or reddish-brown
- Swelling and blistering
- Pain, which may be severe and persistent
- Burns that appear deeper than a typical thermal burn
- Difficulty moving the affected area due to muscle or tissue damage
3. Cardiac arrest
Cardiac arrest is a life-threatening condition that occurs when the heart suddenly stops beating, resulting in the cessation of blood flow to the brain and other vital organs. Electrical shock can cause cardiac arrest when the electric current passing through the body interferes with the heart’s normal electrical activity, disrupting its ability to maintain a regular heartbeat. This can occur when an individual directly contacts a live electrical source or experiences a lightning strike.
The symptoms of cardiac arrest due to electrical shock may include:
- Sudden loss of responsiveness or consciousness
- No pulse or signs of breathing
- Gasping for air or agonal breathing (an irregular pattern of breathing often seen in cardiac arrest)
- Skin that appears pale or blue
4. Muscle damage
Muscle damage injury caused by electrical shock is a serious medical condition that can occur when an electric current passes through the body. The severity of the injury depends on the voltage of the electric shock, the pathway of the current through the body, and the duration of the exposure.
Symptoms of muscle damage caused by electrical shock can include:
- Muscle pain: The muscles may become sore and tender to the touch. This pain may be mild or severe, depending on the severity of the injury.
- Muscle weakness: The muscles may become weak and unable to contract or relax properly. This can affect the ability to move the affected limb or muscle group.
- Muscle spasms: The muscles may contract involuntarily and repeatedly, causing spasms or tremors. This can be very painful and may interfere with daily activities.
- Swelling: The area around the affected muscle may become swollen and inflamed. This can be a sign of tissue damage or inflammation.
- Bruising: If the electrical shock causes damage to blood vessels in the affected area, bruising may occur. This can be a sign of internal bleeding.
- Numbness or tingling: The affected area may feel numb or tingly, indicating nerve damage.
- Difficulty breathing: Electrical shock can cause respiratory distress or failure in severe cases. This can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention.
In some cases, muscle damage caused by electrical shock may not be immediately apparent. It may take several hours or days for symptoms to develop. In addition, some people may experience long-term complications, such as chronic pain or weakness, following an electrical injury.
5. Respiratory injuries
When a person is exposed to a high-voltage electrical shock, the electrical current can flow through the body and cause damage to various tissues and organs, including the respiratory system. The extent of the damage depends on factors such as the magnitude of the current, the duration of exposure, and the path the current takes through the body.
High-voltage electrical shocks can damage the respiratory system in several ways. The current can cause burns or lung tissue damage, leading to difficulty breathing or respiratory arrest. Additionally, the shock can disrupt the normal functioning of the muscles involved in breathing, further contributing to respiratory distress.
The symptoms of respiratory injuries due to electrical shock may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Wheezing or whistling sounds when breathing
- Coughing with or without blood-tinged sputum (phlegm)
- Chest pain or tightness
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Bluish discolouration of the skin, lips, and fingernails due to lack of oxygen
- Sweating, lightheadedness, or dizziness
- Fatigue and confusion
- In extreme cases, loss of consciousness.
These symptoms may indicate a medical emergency and should be evaluated by a doctor immediately. Respiratory failure can develop quickly if the injury is severe enough, so seeking medical attention as soon as possible is important.
6. Neurological injuries
In addition to causing damage to the respiratory system, electrical shocks can also affect the nervous system, leading to neurological symptoms. The electrical current can disrupt the normal functioning of nerve cells and cause damage to the brain, spinal cord, or peripheral nerves.
The symptoms of neurological injury from an electric shock may include:
- Confusion and disorientation
- Headaches, nausea, and vomiting
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Loss of consciousness or coma
- Seizure-like activity or jerking movements
- Muscle weakness or paralysis
- Changes in vision, hearing, taste, or smell
- Behavioural changes such as agitation or aggression
- Memory loss, difficulty concentrating, and difficulty with speech
- Difficulty breathing or shallow breathing
- Cardiac arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats)
- Skin burns at the site of contact.
7. Vision and hearing loss
Vision and hearing loss are two common types of electrical injuries that affect the sensory organs, namely the eyes and ears. These injuries occur when an electrical current passes through the body, damaging the nerves and tissues responsible for vision and hearing.
The symptoms of vision and hearing loss due to electric shock can include:
- Partial or complete blindness
- Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
- Hearing impairment
- Dizziness or vertigo
- Difficulty seeing at night or in dim light
- Difficulty focusing on objects
- Pain in the eyes or ears
- Facial numbness or tingling
- Double vision.
8. Psychological injuries
Psychological injuries are a type of electrical injury that can affect a person’s mental and emotional well-being. These injuries can occur when an electrical current passes through the body and affects the brain and nervous system, leading to various psychological symptoms and complications.
The symptoms of psychological injuries caused by electrical shock are varied but may include the following:
- Strong feelings of anxiety or fear
- Depression and low mood
- Insomnia or difficulty sleeping
- Loss of interest in activities
- Difficulty concentrating
- Flashbacks to the traumatic event
- Avoidance of people, places, and objects associated with the shock.
Understanding electrical injuries is crucial to preventing them from happening and minimizing their impact when they do occur. Prompt medical attention is essential in treating electrical injuries, and prevention measures such as electrical safety tips and PPE use can help reduce the risk of electrical injuries. Prioritizing electrical safety is key to protecting oneself and others from electrical hazards.