How Do You Treat a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn?Faizan Khan
Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most essential tools to have in a home. And rightly so, because it can be used in a myriad of procedures.
However, the traditional brown bottle has its own side effects. Some of the people who have used hydrogen peroxide have documented being burnt by its contact.
So is hydrogen peroxide injurious? What types of injuries can hydrogen peroxide can lead to. We thoroughly go through hydrogen peroxide’s work to answer all of these questions. Moreover, how can you treat a hydrogen peroxide burn if you run into one?
Let’s find out if hydrogen peroxide is really an essential tool we make it out to be or if its risks outweigh its functionality?
How Does a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn Look Like?
A hydrogen peroxide burn is very similar to a thermal burn.
However, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide you are exposed to may have an impact on the severity of the burn wound. The domestically available hydrogen peroxide is 3% concentrated. At this concentration, hydrogen peroxide can hardly penetrate the topmost layer of the skin. And if it is exposed for long enough, it may start to react with the skin cells causing mild irritation.
However, at concentrations of 10% and higher, things start to get a bit serious. At this concentration, hydrogen peroxide can easily penetrate the layers of skin and even damage the underlying connective tissues, which may result in the formation of traditional burn scars.
The burns caused by hydrogen peroxide are usually 1st-degree burns. These types of burns are characterized by red, swollen skin with mild blisters. The blisters may burst to give the skin a wet, sticky look.
At industrial hydrogen peroxide exposure, burns up to 2nd-degree are seen. In these types of burns, the damage is up to the underlying dermis of the skin. The affected area is swollen and blistered, much like the 1st-degree burn. However, the wound is much deeper and causes a lot more pain.
Different Areas of Your Body That Can Get Exposed to Hydrogen Peroxide
If you use hydrogen peroxide without following certain precautions, different parts of your body become prone to damage.
Some of the most common sites of damage caused by hydrogen peroxide are the skin, respiratory passage, digestive tract, and eyes.
Skin exposure to hydrogen peroxide is very common in households. When hydrogen peroxide is used in various procedures, like cleaning the countertop, it can come into direct contact with the skin.
And if the person is not careful enough, the contacting hydrogen peroxide may cause damage to the underlying skin and lead to irritations and in rare cases, burns.
Hydrogen peroxide is unstable in the direct air. When it comes into contact with the atmosphere, it quickly dissociates into water and oxygen.
If someone is using hydrogen peroxide with their faces up close to the substance, it can move into the respiratory passage and the lungs and cause damage.
If someone is not careful and does not wash off hydrogen peroxide after a procedure, it can be accidentally ingested.
Ingesting hydrogen peroxide can cause damage to the mucosal lining of the stomach, leading to nausea, vomiting, haematemesis, and foaming of the mouth.
As the hydrogen peroxide is moderately volatile, it can irritate the eyes, just like the respiratory passage.
Therefore, it is important to follow certain precautions and protocols before using hydrogen peroxide extensively. Read our articles on how you can use hydrogen peroxide safely here!
Treating a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn
Hydrogen peroxide comes in a variety of concentrations. The domestically available hydrogen peroxide is 3% concentrated. At this concentration, hydrogen peroxide is generally harmless, though mild skin irritation may occur after prolonged exposure. However, at higher concentrations like 10% or the food-grade 35%, hydrogen peroxide can have adverse effects.
Let’s see how you can manage a burn caused by hydrogen peroxide if you, unfortunately, experience one.
How to Treat a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn on the Skin?
Before we start explaining the procedure to treat a hydrogen peroxide burn, there are two side notes to be kept in mind. Firstly, the burn caused by hydrogen peroxide is very similar to a thermal burn. Therefore, most of the procedures we will go through are the ones aiming to treat the skin damage as seen in a thermal burn.
Secondly, there are different concentrations of hydrogen peroxide and their burns are treated differently. Therefore, we will look individually at each and conclude the best way you can treat the burn!
Burns Caused by 3% Hydrogen peroxide
If you have come into contact with hydrogen peroxide in a household setting, there are high chances that the skin irritation is being caused due to a 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration. It is the most common type of hydrogen peroxide which is readily available in our homes.
The first response to hydrogen peroxide burn is to remove any clothing or object soaked with hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide tends to drench your clothes. By not being careful, you can make your skin prone to long exposures to hydrogen peroxide, which may cause further damage!
The second step lies in cooling down the burnt area. The 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration is not hazardous, so cool water can be a great agent to remove and cool down the burnt site. You should aim to flush the brunt area with cool running water for at least 10 minutes. Moreover, make sure to thoroughly rinse hydrogen peroxide off using soap from the affected areas. Do not vigorously scrub the area as it may irritate the skin even more!
If a large part of your skin has come into contact with hydrogen peroxide, you can take a cold water shower. On a side note, if running water feels uncomfortable, you can also use a cold object to compress the area.
The third and final step of the procedure is covering the wound with ointment or gel. Use antimicrobial ointments or those which provide a cooling effect to the skin. This will encourage skin recovery and ease the pain!
Additionally, you can take pain-relieving medications like ibuprofen or acetaminophen if the pain is becoming unbearable. Though 3% hydrogen peroxide burns rarely lead up to intolerable pain.
Burns Caused by 10% Hydrogen peroxide or more
Getting into contact with high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide can be detrimental to health. Industrial grade hydrogen peroxide which is 90% concentrated may even be fatal. Nonetheless, at high concentrations, hydrogen peroxide burns become a medical emergency and should be treated as such.
The first step in treating a burn caused by high concentration is calling the ambulance. Although it may seem hysterical at first, however, at this concentration hydrogen peroxide may cause second or even third-degree burns which are extremely injurious to health.
The second step lies in managing the patients. Just like with a minor burn of hydrogen peroxide, the aim should be cooling down the wound and washing hydrogen peroxide off completely. Strip yourself or the person who has come into contact with a high concentration of hydrogen peroxide off of contacted clothes. Moreover, make sure to seal them in a plastic bag to avoid further contact.
Then clean the affected sites with cold running water just like with the 3% hydrogen peroxide burn. Make sure to clean hydrogen peroxide off completely before you move on to applying ointments.
In the next step, cover the wound using a cloth or a blanket to preserve water loss. As with many harsh burns, a person becomes extremely prone to high water loss, and in turn low pulse and more complications.
After getting treated at the hospital, remain in contact with your doctor. Make sure to alert him if you experience any unusual symptoms like worsening redness, irritation, or pus discharging from the site of burnt skin.
How to Deal With Hydrogen Peroxide if Ingested?
If ingested, hydrogen peroxide can have severe complications in your body. As it has loose oxygen, it will start reacting with the stomach acid, causing disruption. This can lead to painful gastric distension, belching, nausea, vomiting blood, and at higher doses, it can cause unconsciousness and convulsions. Moreover, as the hydrogen peroxide is moving down your food canal, it can damage the mucosal surface leading to irritation.
Hydrogen peroxide can stay over your hands if you don’t wash them after the procedure. And without thinking someone may eat something with hydrogen peroxide-laden hands. The silver lining in all of this is that the hydrogen peroxide concentration and the amount are very low and it seldom causes severe consequences. However, children are more prone to drink hydrogen peroxide by mistaking it for water. In such cases, you should immediately call an ambulance and seek medical help.
The best way of treating a small amount of hydrogen peroxide ingestion is by drinking lots of water and milk. The great thing about our body is that it recovers itself if the injuring agent is removed. By drinking 4 to 8 ounces of milk or water you can safely wash down the hydrogen peroxide residue in your mucosal lining and effectively diluting its concentration. If someone has ingested a significant amount of hydrogen peroxide, he can also try drinking lots of water, after calling an ambulance that is.
You may also try gargling with warm water if hydrogen peroxide has only come into contact with your oral cavity.
How to Treat Hydrogen Peroxide Eye Irritation?
As much as hydrogen peroxide is easy to use and gets the best results, it can cause damage to your eyes. Without precautions, the hydrogen peroxide vapors can seep into your eyes, leading to irritation, lacrimation, and blurred vision. However, the good news is that the domestically available hydrogen peroxide is only 3% concentrated and it will not cause severe damage to your eyes. Although at higher concentrations, hydrogen peroxide can lead to ulcerations and even perforation of the cornea, which is the main light receiving center of your eye.
For the sake of relevance, we will discuss how you can treat a 3% hydrogen peroxide eye irritation as it is much more likely to happen than an industrial one.
The first step in treating an eye irritation caused by hydrogen peroxide is to remove any contact lenses if you are wearing them. Contact lenses can house hydrogen peroxide which can extensively damage the eyes after longer exposure.
The next step is to wash your eyes thoroughly with cold running water for at least 10-15 minutes. Before you go on about cupping water, make sure your hands are clean of all the hydrogen peroxide. After cleaning your hands, gently wash your eyes with water and make sure all of the hydrogen peroxides are washed away from them. You can also use 0.9% saline solution if you have a bottle available. The saline solution has the same osmolarity as the cells present in the eyes and thus, provides a natural cleanse without further damaging it.
After you have completely washed your eyes, make sure to check your vision. You should try to focus on distant objects and see if you have any obstructions or hindrances in your vision. If that’s the case, immediately contact a doctor! Moreover, you can ask someone to check for any abrasions or deformities over your eye surface, and seek medical help if one is noticed.
What Concentration of Hydrogen Peroxide Can Cause Burns?
While hydrogen peroxide is known to cause skin irritation, it is very uncommon for it to burn your skin.
The domestically available hydrogen peroxide is 3% concentrated or less, which means in a 100 ml solution, only 3 ml is actual hydrogen peroxide while the rest is water. At this dilute concentration, it is very unlikely for hydrogen peroxide to cause any burns to let alone serious ones.
However, as the concentration of hydrogen peroxide increases, so does its potency. At higher concentrations like 10% or the food-grade hydrogen peroxide which is 35%, hydrogen peroxide becomes active and can cause serious burns. Therefore, the higher concentration is not available in the market for regular use and is illegal. In the industries, the use of concentrated hydrogen peroxide is carefully regulated to avoid any complications.
Why Does Hydrogen Peroxide Burn the Skin?
Hydrogen peroxide is one of the best oxidizing agents known. When you look at the structure of hydrogen peroxide, it is a lot like water with additional oxygen. This additional oxygen is loosely bound, and therefore easily liberated.
Considering this fact, hydrogen peroxide becomes an amazing tool to use for oxidation. Moreover, it is easy to use and readily available. This oxidizing property of hydrogen peroxide is used in a plethora of procedures. The most well-known one is killing off bacteria and germs from different surfaces. The reactive oxygen that hydrogen peroxide liberates, reacts with the bacterial cell wall which changes its composition and eliminates the germ.
However, a similar reaction occurs with the cells when hydrogen peroxide is applied to the skin. Hydrogen peroxide is like a double-edged sword. The reactive oxygen is non-specific. While it can be used to kill all sorts of germs and viruses, it can also in turn harm the skin. When the oxygen from hydrogen peroxide comes into contact with the skin cells, it reacts with an enzyme called catalase present in your skin cells. This enzyme is responsible for a variety of reactions that involve protecting the skin from toxins.
As this enzyme is altered, skin becomes prone to injury. Moreover, the hydrogen peroxide starts killing off some of the skin cells which may lead to irritations and in severe cases, burns.
The Severity of the Burn May Vary – Different Stages
As we have mentioned in the previous sections, hydrogen peroxide comes in all types of concentrations. The legal concentration for hydrogen peroxide is 3% or less, while the industrial concentration can get up to as high as 90%!
The burns caused by 3% hydrogen peroxide or less are superficial and damage only the topmost layer of the skin. With these types of burns, only skin irritation is seen. It is because the topmost layer of your skin is moderately innervated by sensory cells. Moreover, skin irritation is also a way of your body telling you to wash that hydrogen peroxide off from your skin!
However, if hydrogen peroxide is left on the skin for longer periods, it may seep into deeper layers of the skin. In such cases, it may lead to damage to the underlying basal cells. Basal cells are responsible to constantly make new skin and are highly innervated by nerve cells. Therefore, high exposure to hydrogen peroxide can lead to deeper burns which can cause a lot of pain and scars.
The food-grade and industrial hydrogen peroxide are very high concentrations of hydrogen peroxide. If somehow you get into contact with higher concentrations of hydrogen peroxide, it may damage the deeper linings of your skin and even the blood vessels! These types of burns are named 2nd and 3rd-degree burns. Hence, contact with hydrogen peroxide at higher concentrations becomes a medical emergency and should be handled immediately!
Some Precautions You Must Take While Treating a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn
The burns caused by hydrogen peroxide are a lot like the ones caused by heat. The procedure you should follow, and the one we have mentioned in our article, are very much applicable to thermal burns. Therefore, the precautions you should follow are similar to ones caused by fire.
While cleaning the burnt site, make sure the cloth you are using is clean and sterile. After a burn the protective cells of our skin are killed off too, thereby making your skin more prone to all kinds of infections. By using a dirty cloth you are making the task of bacteria easier by placing them directly close to your skin.
Another thing to keep in mind is to cover the burn wound with a clean cloth. The reasoning is similar to the one mentioned above. As the bacteria are everywhere, and your skin has become prone to infections, the natural bactericidal mechanism is compromised. By keeping the wound covered with a clean cloth, you provide a layer between you and the external infection-causing agents.
Make sure to remain in contact with your doctor if the burn is too severe. Although cases like second or third-degree burns are very unlikely to happen with 3% hydrogen peroxide concentration, however, make sure to contact your doctors if you notice any of the following signs:
- Excessive redness
- Redness radiating to other sites
- Pus filled blisters
- Nausea and headache
Actions You Must Avoid While Treating a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn
Now that we have discussed certain precautions while treating a hydrogen peroxide burn, there are some actions you should avoid at all costs!
The first thing you should keep in mind while treating a hydrogen peroxide burn is to gently wash it off. When you are pouring cold water over the affected site, make sure to clean gently with soap. DO NOT scrub it rigorously as it may lead to further irritations.
Another very common misconception that needs to be addressed is, DO NOT apply toothpaste to the burnt site. People generally think toothpaste is the best remedy when it comes to treating burns, especially the ones caused by heat. However, this is a serious misconception. Some toothpaste has mint which can provide an instant cooling effect when applied to the brunt site. However, in many cases, the thick layer of toothpaste blocks all air from entering the wound. Air is a natural coolant of the skin. Therefore, applying toothpaste can further clog up the wound and make the conditions worse especially when the burn is of severe variety.
How Soon Does a Hydrogen Peroxide Burn Heal and Does it Leave a Mark?
A burn wound can be really painful and may require constant monitoring. However, the great news for you is, the burns caused by domestic hydrogen peroxide are superficial.
Superficial burns which damage only the topmost layer of the skin are very quick to heal. The skin is one of the fastest cells to regenerate in the body and if the underlying regenerative (basal) cells are unharmed, the burn can heal very quickly. The average healing time for a superficial burn is about 3 to 6 days.
You can further speed up the healing process by applying ointments and regularly washing the wound with cool water for 10 minutes.
Moreover, a superficial burn does not leave a mark. However, in rare cases, your skin comes into contact with a concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution and it seeps into the deeper layer of your skin, things may get messy.
For once, the healing will take a lot more time as the regenerative cells of the skin are harmed. And as the skin is making new collagen fibers (that are responsible for the texture of your skin), it may leave scars. Fortunately, the odds of you running into a concentrated hydrogen peroxide solution are very low!
The Final Verdict
Hydrogen peroxide is a great tool to have at our homes. It has excellent oxidizing and disinfecting properties which makes it very versatile. Hence, it can be used in a plethora of procedures like cleaning countertops, carpets, bleaching your hairs, and cleaning your wounds.
However, if someone is not careful with the use of domestically available hydrogen peroxide it can cause mild to moderate skin irritations. That is because hydrogen peroxide can start to react with the contracted skin. However, any severe complications are not seen with the hydrogen peroxide skin exposure. Moreover, the damage caused by the hydrogen peroxide can be easily treated and the person recovers very quickly.
With these things in mind, the use of hydrogen peroxide outweighs the side effects. If someone follows a proper procedure and a protocol, the odds of contracting an injury are very small. Therefore, grab your set of hydrogen peroxide bottles today and find out different ways you can use them!