How to Survive an Acid Attack

You’re walking down the street when a stranger approaches you and suddenly throws a cup of liquid in your face. Your skin and eyes start burning, and you can’t see anything. What was in that cup? And what is it doing to your body?

Acids are cheap and easy to purchase compared to knives, guns or other weapons. They’re an easy method of inflicting damage. Chemical burns can extend into your tendons and bones. And the damage could be so severe you need to have your limbs cut off.

According to the London-based Acid Survivors Trust International, there are 1,500 cases of acid attacks recorded every year worldwide. They’re most likely to occur in Pakistan, India, the United Kingdom and Uganda. And 80% of acid attack victims are women.

These attackers don’t want to kill their victims. Instead, they want to disfigure and scar their victims for life by ruining their future romantic prospects, career opportunities and social status.

What does acid do to your skin? How could water prevent you from needing surgery? And why would you need to measure the burn?

Step 1. Rinse the burn

In March of 2021, a stranger poured a cup of battery acid on a woman’s face outside her home in Long Island. One of her contact lenses seared to her eye, and the acid ran down her throat. Her mother, a nurse practitioner, rushed the woman inside the house and rinsed her face with water.

After several weeks in the hospital, she still has trouble eating, painful burns on her face and her eyesight might be compromised forever. But she likely would’ve died if her mother hadn’t acted quickly.

Rinsing yourself with water within the first minute after the burn can reduce your risk of complications, limit the long-term effects of scarring and reduce your need for surgery. So flush the burned area for at least 20 minutes.

Step 2. Act fast

If you’re attacked with acid, the following seconds are a crucial time for limiting the severity of your wounds. When a chemical like sulfuric acid comes in contact with skin, coagulation necrosis starts.

This is the accidental death of cells or tissue that occurs when the strong links or bonds in proteins are denatured, or broken down, by the acid. It’s essential to contain this damage immediately using a soapy solution, as sulfuric acid feels hot when you add water to it.

Step 3. Measure the burn

After rinsing the area with water, put clean gauze over the burn to keep it clean. But don’t try to remove the skin or blisters. And don’t use any lotion or ointment unless a doctor tells you to.

And if the burn is larger than 7.6 cm (3 in) or located on your hands, feet, face or groin, you’ll need to go to a hospital and have your wounds checked by a doctor.

Step 4. Don’t rub the burn

After you apply sterile gauze to the burn, a cool compress can help relieve your pain. But do not put ice on the burn, as this will cause further damage to the skin. Also, do not scrub or rub the burn.

Step 5. Check the vital signs

Chemical burns are responsible for one-third of burn-related deaths. Along with the burn, first responders need to monitor your vital signs like breathing, heart rate and level of consciousness. You still have a long recovery ahead of you, but you’re just thankful to be alive.

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