Electrical burn injuries in children

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Abstract

Aim

Electrical burns account for up to 10% of burns admissions worldwide. Although a potentially serious mechanism of injury in children, there exists limited Australian data. This study aimed to describe the epidemiology, presentation, management and complications of electrical burn injuries in children.

Methods

We performed a retrospective case note review of all children under 16 years of age with electrical burns admitted to the New South Wales Paediatric Burns Centre over an 8-year, 2-month study period between November 1995 and December 2003.

Results

Twenty-two cases were identified. The mean age at presentation was 7.6 years (range 8 months to 14.3 years). Eighty-six percent of cases were sustained from a Low Voltage (<1000 W) power source and 55% occurred in males. The total body surface area burnt ranged from 0.5% to 35% with an average of 4%. Fourteen children had their burns managed non-operatively, but eight required various surgical procedures ranging from local debridement and primary closure to full-thickness skin grafting. The average length of hospital stay was 6 days (range 1–58 days). Complications occurred in 4 of the 22 patients (18%) and included wound infections, acute renal failure because of myoglobinuria, permanent electrocardiogram changes and long-term paraesthesia. Three patients (14%) suffered continued morbidity because of scarring, amputation and psychological disturbance. There was no mortality.

Conclusions

Electrical injury was an infrequent but potentially serious cause of injury in children. Minor injuries were successfully managed non-operatively. Neurological sequelae, cardiac arrhythmias and renal failure remain serious complications in up to 20% of cases.

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