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First Aid: Electrical Shocks

When to seek medical help

Seek medical help if any of the following is true:

  • The skin is burned, singed, or appears punctured.

  • The victim acts dazed or confused.

  • The victim was in contact with lightning, even if they appear normal.

Call 911

Call 911 right away if the victim has any of the following:

  • A weak, irregular, or nonexistent pulse

  • Is unconscious for any length of time

  • Symptoms of shock like cool, clammy skin

  • Trouble breathing or burns that involve the face

  • Burns

  • Treat for shock or do rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.

If a car is trapped beneath a downed power line, don`t touch the car. Tell the occupants to stay in the car. The rubber wheels offer protection from the current only to the people inside the car.

Step 1. Stop the source

  • To stop current coming from an outlet, unplug the power cord or switch off circuit breakers or unscrew fuses.

  • To stop current in power lines, call the local power company and fire department.

  • Don't risk severe electric shock by approaching downed power lines.

  • Don't use a tree limb to lift downed power lines. Moisture in the wood may conduct electricity from the lines to you.

Step 2. Check breathing

  • Make sure the victim is breathing.

  • Do rescue breathing or CPR, if needed. When doing CPR, focus on giving chest compressions. Alternate with rescue breathing only if you’re trained in CPR and are comfortable doing rescue breathing. Research has found that when done correctly, chest compressions alone are just as effective on adults. But rescue breathing is more useful with children.

Step 3. Care for injuries

  • Treat physical shock by raising the person's legs and covering the upper body.

  • Look for burns where the current entered and left the body, usually on a hand or foot. Check all 4 extremities as there may be different entrance and exit points.

Lightning strike

Lightning is electrical current that flashes from the clouds to the ground. It can travel through a body's cells to reach the ground. Injuries common to lightning strike include burns, heart problems, bone and spinal column fractures, memory loss, and damage to hearing or eyesight. People who have been struck by lightning may have an unusual red fern-like rash on their body. This may be your only clue that they were struck by lightning:

  • Call 911 or seek medical help right away.

  • Do rescue breathing or CPR, if needed.

Online Medical Reviewer: Eric Perez MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Tara Novick BSN MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2022
© 2000-2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.