Medical Treatment for Sodium Hydroxide Skin Burns

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One of the most widely used bases in chemistry is sodium hydroxide (NaOH). It typically comes as a solid white pellet and is very soluble in water. A primary function of the chemical is to neutralize acids, but it is also used to make soap, drinking water and paper. Since sodium hydroxide is very caustic, extreme safety should be taken when using it as the user could get a chemical burn.

Acute Exposure

Dermal contact with sodium hydroxide can take several different forms depending on the strength of the solution. Solutions of 25 to 50 percent concentration will produce an immediate burn. Those of lesser concentrations could take as long as several hours before a burn occurs. If you receive a sodium hydroxide chemical burn, immediately seek medical treatment, preferably at a hospital.

Prehospital Care

The first thing you should do is get away from the spill. If you cannot move yourself, yell for help. Once you are in a safe area, brush any of the solid chemical off your body, but only do so with another object or while wearing protective clothing. Try to keep this in a separate, confined area. You should then take off any clothing that has been contaminated and thoroughly wash any infected skin areas with water for at least 15 minutes.

If you think your eyes may be infected, flush them with clean water or saline for at least 30 minutes. If you wear contacts, take them out unless doing so would further damage your eyes.

Take your infected clothing and put it in some kind of secured holding container, like a bag. If you are unable to drive yourself to a hospital, seek help. If no one can help you, find a phone and call for an ambulance.

Hospital Care

When arriving at the hospital, go directly to the Emergency Room entrance. Tell the nurse in charge that you have a sodium hydroxide burn and ask to be taken directly to the burn unit. Inform the medical staff of any pertinent information, such as the strength of the sodium hydroxide solution and length of exposure.

There is no antidote for sodium hydroxide itself, and there really is no lab test that will say whether you have infected any other parts of your body such as your lungs. General laboratory tests can be done, however, to determine if organs are damaged. The medical staff at the hospital should refer you to your regular practicing physician for follow-up visits.

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