16 July 2017

Acid Attacks: How to Treat Chemical Burns

This year there has been a worrying increase in the number of high profile robberies involving youths, mopeds and acid attacks in and around London.

Just in case you are unfortunate enough to be caught up in an acid attack, we have gone through the various 'expert' web sites and compiled this helpful advice on how to treat chemical burns.

NHS Choices is one of the most respected UK resources for medical advice and they say "Appropriate first aid must be used to treat any burns or scalds as soon as possible. This will limit the amount of damage to the skin."

The main aim of any burn treatment is to stop the burning process as quickly as possible.

Remove the chemical causing the burn but don't put yourself at risk of getting burnt as well, wear protective gloves and googles if any are available.

Remove all contaminated clothing and any jewellery near the burnt area of skin, especially rings on fingers, as these can continue to burn. 

Gently cool the burn with copious amounts of cool or lukewarm running water for at least 20 minutes, as soon as possible after the injury. Never use cold or iced water as this can cause the patient to suffer with hypothermia, also don't use any creams or greasy substances such as butter. A shower can be used if available but be careful about splashes going into your eyes while washing acid off your skin.

Keep the patient warm. Use a blanket or fresh layers of clothing, but avoid putting them on the injured area. Keeping them warm will prevent hypothermia, where a person's body temperature drops below 35*C (95*F). This is a risk if you are cooling a large burnt area, particularly in young children and elderly people.

Cover the burn with cling film. Put the cling film in a layer over the burn, rather than wrapping it around a limb. A specialist sterile clear plastic bag can be used for burns on the hand.

Sit the patient upright as much as possible if the face or eyes are burnt. Avoid lying down for as long as possible as this will help to reduce swelling.

If possible, find out what chemical caused the burn and tell the ambulance paramedic or A&E staff.

Burns can be very painful and minor burns (not affecting the face) can be treated with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Always check the manufacturer's instructions when using over-the-counter medication. Children under 16 years of age should not be given aspirin.

London Ambulance Service have issued some guidance on when a acid attack patient should go to hospital:

  • The person is showing signs of shock such as fainting, a pale complexion or very shallow breathing.
  • The chemical has burnt through the first layer of their skin (ie a blister has formed) and the burn covers an area more than three inches (about eight centimetres) in diameter.
  • The chemical burn goes all the way round a limb or involves the eyes, hands, feet, face, groin or buttocks, or a major joint such as the knee or elbow.

The British Burn Association has some very simple advice of ‘Cool, Call and Cover’ 

Cool the burn with running cold tap water for 20 minutes and remove all clothing and jewellery.
Call for help – 999, 111 or local GP for advice.
Cover with cling film or a sterile, non-fluffy dressing or cloth. Make sure the patient is kept warm.

If you'd like help putting together an "Acid Attack Response Kit" then please contact us at

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