Electric shock injuries occur when the body comes into direct contact with an electrical current. The human body is naturally a good conductor of electricity, meaning that electrical currents can pass through the body causing tissue damage and organ failure. The effects of electrical injuries range from mild to severe, with 40 percent of cases resulting in death.
The risk of suffering electric shock is highest in children under 6 years of age, with most injuries happening due to contact with electric cords, uncovered appliances, and electrical outlets. Older children are more likely to sustain high-voltage shocks from climbing utility poles or trees that are next to power lines.
This article covers all the information parents should know about electric shocks, such as identifying the risks, understanding the nature of electrical injuries, and knowing how to prevent them from happening.
Electrical cords: Children and toddlers can come into contact with loose electrical cords around the house and might pull or bite them without understanding their dangers.
Power outlets: Uncovered electrical outlets pose a health and safety risk to young children. Curious toddlers can suffer an electric shock by sticking metal objects or their own fingers into uncovered outlets. Faulty outlets with loose screws/wiring are a risk to people of all ages and can cause electrocution when plugging in appliances or switching things on and off.
Appliances: Appliances such as irons and hairdryers can cause electric shock and thermal burns. Parents might not realize that their children can plug in and turn on these appliances, so they must be kept well out of sight and reach.
Lightning: Although being struck by lightning is highly unlikely, lightning causes around 100 fatalities each year in the US. Electrocution by lightning can cause fatal cardiac arrhythmias and respiratory failure.
Electrical burns are skin burns that occur from electrocution. When the skin comes into direct contact with electrical energy it converts into thermal energy, resulting in electrical burns.
Unlike a normal burn which affects the skin only, high-voltage electrical burns can cause internal damage to the organs and respiratory system . But like heat burns and scalds, electrical burns vary in severity depending on how deeply they penetrate the skin. Electrical burns can be placed in 1 of 3 categories:
- Superficial — Affecting only the top layer of skin. Burnt skin is dry and painful and turns from red to white when pressed.
- Partial-thickness — Affecting the top 2 layers of skin. Burnt skin appears red and may leak discharge.
- Full-thickness — Affecting all layers of skin. Burnt skin is not painful due to complete nerve damage in the affected area. Burn is white, red, or black in color.
If your child has suffered an electric shock, you should take them to a doctor immediately. Although the burn might not look serious, the internal damage can be more severe and it is worth having a doctor check out the extent of the injury.
Immediately after the electric shock occurs, you should do the following:
- Separate your child from the electrical current and turn off the power supply if necessary.
- Put a cold wet cloth (not ice) on the burn to cool it down. Cooling down the skin helps to stop the burning and prevent further damage.
- Elevate the burnt body part just above the level of the heart to reduce swelling and ease the pain.
- You may want to give your child medication such as Acetaminophen for particularly painful burns. Always follow the dosage guidelines on the packaging and consult your pediatrician if you are unsure.
As all parents and caregivers will know, toddlers and young children are very curious about their surroundings. Although curiosity and exploration are important for their development, they will not yet understand the dangers of the things around them.
Electrical outlets and wires are often at the perfect level for children to reach, making them a common household shock hazard. Children are prone to tugging and chewing on wires, sticking their fingers or objects into outlets, and playing with appliances and on/off switches.
Parents and caregivers are responsible for ensuring that the right precautions are taken to protect little ones from the dangers of electricity. Precautions you can take to ‘childproof’ your electrical appliances are:
- Covering unused outlets and keeping them switched off.
- Keeping all appliances out of reach of toddlers, ideally storing them away securely when not in use.
- Keeping drinks and liquids away from appliances and consoles.
- Ensuring loose cords or trailing wires are kept tidy and out of reach of children.
- Ensuring your child is thoroughly dry before letting them near any electrical appliances.
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