In June 2022, a seven-year-old boy named Saurabh was rushed into an emergency ward in Bengaluru after he suffered convulsions due to an electric shock. His metal selfie-stick came in contact with an overhead, non-insulated high-tension wire while playing on the terrace. He survived but suffered deep burn injuries.
In children, severe injuries from electric shocks also occur due to accidental contact with non-insulated, high-tension electric wires, says Dr Chetan Ginigeri, paediatrician, Aster CMI Hospital, Bengaluru, who treated the boy.
Electric shocks in children require immediate attention to prevent serious consequences. “Any parents’ natural response is grabbing or pulling the kid away from the shock. But this only worsens the situation as the shock can be transmitted further,” warns Dr Fazal Nabi, paediatrician, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre, Mumbai.
First line of treatment for electric shocks
Dr Nabi explains the immediate steps that need to be taken in case of a shock:
- Cut off the power source to stop the electric supply.
- Use wooden log or rubber gloves to push a child/person away from the source of the shock.
- After falling on the ground, move him/her to a well-ventilated zone.
- In case of burns, pour cold water on the burned area immediately.
Doctors explain that if the pulse rate is below 60 per minute, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be the immediate first-aid measure. In addition, as a preventive and safety measure, one can also perform mouth-to-mouth breathing, irrespective of emergency.
Factors that determine the severity of the electric shock include the duration of shock, type of current (direct: unidirectional or alternating: bi-directional) and the degree of voltage (high: >500 volts or low: <500 volts).
Dr Ginigeri recalls a similar case of a 10-year-old boy from Bengaluru named Nitin who suffered an electric shock in the summer holidays of 2022. He suffered the shock through a high-tension electric wire when he tried to pull down a ball stuck on a tree using an aluminum rod.
“The severity of an electric shock is determined by whether it pushes or pulls you,” said Dr Ginigeri. Both the cases suffered burns and trauma. While Saurabh was pulled for long time, Nitin was pushed to the ground immediately after the shock. However, both of them were rushed to the emergency ward immediately.
Children at risk
Adventurous and experiment-prone toddlers (aged two to three years) and adolescents (aged 10 to 17 years) are at high risk of suffering electric shocks. “Approximately 20% of all electrocution cases admitted involve children,” says Dr Sankar Kumar L, head, critical care/emergency, Promed Hospital, Chennai.
“Most cases involving children include the use of household appliances with wet hands,” says Dr Nabi.
The doctors explain that the most common causes of electric shock are:
- Inadvertent incision of metal pieces (such a fork or spoon) into electric sockets.
- Biting electric cords.
- Water leakage in lifts.
- Experimenting with high-voltage electric appliances using wet hands or feet.
Signs to watch out for
Dr Kumar stresses, “Lack of consciousness or alertness and erratic (very fast, very slow or inconsistent) or no pulse rate indicates emergency.”
Additionally, one should check for the following symptoms although the child may not exhibit any visible injuries:
- Burns on the lip, hands, feet or head.
- Mental confusion.
- Difficulty in breathing.
- Chest pain.
“The skin manifests burns at the entry and exit points. Tracing this path is very important to understand the damage to the internal organs,” says Dr Kumar.
If the injury is moderate to severe, it may take five to seven days for internal injuries to show. Hence, Saurabh was under observation for six days. Although he showed no internal or secondary injuries, the burns were deep and hence, the skin was cleansed. The healing would take about two to five months. After complete healing, he will be undergoing skin grafting.
Types of burns caused by an electric shock
Any electric current that passes through the body converts the energy into heat, resulting in burns. Burns can be superficial, moderate or deep.
“If the shock is mild and the burn is superficial, it causes redness in the skin accompanied by pain,” says Dr Kumar. He adds, “for intense shocks with deeper burns, the skin generally appears bleached or pale white, with no pain and evident numbness.”
How to check the pulse
- Pulse rate can be checked on the wrist, elbow and back of the knee.
- The most suitable area to check pulse rate is the brachial pulse located in the elbow.
- Stable pulse rate in children up to 17 years of age is 80 to 100 beats per minute.
- Pulse rate less than 60 per minute is considered to be an emergency.
- Children should be educated about electric shocks in order to prevent serious consequences.
- Childproofing the electric points at home can help.
- Electric points or switches that are at children’s reach should be taped.
- Wet hands should not be used to turn off geyser and other high voltage electric points.
- Moisturising the burnt hands after cold water dip causes more tissue damage.