How are electrical injuries treated in the emergency department (ED)?

Updated: Mar 09, 2020
  • Author: Tracy A Cushing, MD, MPH, FACEP, FAWM; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Stabilize patients and provide airway and circulatory support as indicated by ACLS/ATLS protocols. Obtain airway protection and provide oxygen for any patient with severe hypoxia, facial/oral burns, loss of consciousness/inability to protect airway, or respiratory distress. Cervical spine immobilization with or without spinal immobilization is needed based on the mechanism of injury/neurologic examination. Primary survey should assess for traumatic injuries such as pneumothorax, peritonitis, or pelvic fractures.

After primary assessment, begin fluid resuscitation and titrate to urine output of 0.5-1 mL/kg/h in any patient with significant burns or myoglobinuria. Consider furosemide or mannitol for further diuresis of myoglobin. Urine alkalinization increases the rate of myoglobin clearance and can be achieved using sodium bicarbonate titrated to a serum pH of 7.5. Obtain adequate intravenous access for fluid resuscitation, whether peripheral or central. Initiate cardiac monitoring for all patients with anything more than trivial low-voltage exposures.

Burn care should include tetanus immunization as indicated, wound care, measurement of compartment pressures as indicated, and it may include early fasciotomy. Extremities with severe burns should be splinted in a functional position after careful documentation of full neurovascular examination.

The risks of electrical injury to the fetus in a pregnant patient are unknown. Pregnant women who are involved in electrical injuries should have a careful examination for traumatic injuries and obstetrical consultation. Women in the second half of pregnancy should be admitted for fetal monitoring in any cases of severe electrical injuries, high-voltage exposures, or minor electrical injuries with significant trauma.

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