Electrical shock occurs when an electrical current travels through the body. Injuries from electrical shock happen when someone accidentally comes in contact with an electrical source, such as a frayed cord or a downed power line.
This article discusses the causes, signs, effects, and prevention of electrical shock.
An electric shock occurs when someone has direct contact with a high-voltage current that travels through the body.
Several things can cause an electric shock, including:
- Being struck by lightening
- Contact with downed power lines
- Putting fingers or objects into an electrical socket
- Touching faulty or frayed electrical cords or appliances
- Touching overloaded electrical outlets
Signs and Symptoms
Signs and symptoms of electrical shock can vary based on the type and amount of voltage. Some may include:
- Numbness and tingling
- Irregular heartbeat
- Breathing irregularities or difficulty
- Vision or hearing issues
- Muscle spasms
- Loss of consciousness
- Cardiac arrest
Symptoms caused by touching a frayed kitchen appliance cord are usually much less severe than those caused by higher-voltage shocks from sources such as power lines or lightning.
When electrical shock occurs outside, the treatment may also involve several steps to ensure the area is safe before helping the victim, such as:
- Examine the person visually but do not touch them. They can pass the electrical current on to you if still connected to the electrical source.
- Call 911 or have someone else call 911
- Check for a source of electricity and turn it off if possible. If it's not possible, use an object of non-conducting material, such as wood or plastic.
- When you are sure you will be safe from electrical shock, check the victim's breathing and pulse. Immediately begin cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) if either has stopped or appears unusually low.
- If the victim is breathing but appears faint or has other signs of shock, lay them down with their legs elevated. Bring the head slightly below the trunk of the body.
- Do not treat any burns or remove clothing, and wait until help arrives.
If a person or child experiences an electrical shock at home, contact your healthcare provider, pediatrician, or call 911. In some cases, shock can cause internal injuries that are visually undetectable.
A healthcare provider can assess for surface burns, mouth burns, or other internal organ injuries. If the person has severe burns, they may need to be admitted to the hospital for treatment and observation.
Medical care for electrical shock will depend on the amount of voltage involved. Minor incidence of electrical shock may not require medical care.
Treatment for less severe incidences of electrical shock may include pain medication, antibiotic ointment, and dressing changes for minor burns.
Higher voltage injuries will require a higher level of care and often have poorer outcomes. Emergency medical care may require:
- ICU care
- IV fluids
- Nutritional support
When to See a Doctor
If you or a loved one experiences an electrical shock, it's important to be examined by a healthcare provider.
The damage from an electrical shock depends on the voltage level, source, how it traveled through the body, the person's age, and overall health.
Call 911 if a person with electrical shock has:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Muscle pain or muscle contractions
- Breathing problems
- Cardiac arrest
- Loss of consciousness
Best practices to prevent electrical shock in the home include:
- Cover all outlets.
- Ensure that wires are properly insulated and covered.
- Keep wires away from children's reach.
- Supervise children in areas with possible electrical hazards, such as electrical appliances near a bathtub or pool.
- Turn off the circuit breaker when working with electricity in the home.
- Don't use electrical appliances in the bath or shower.
There are several ways to prevent electrical shock outside of the house, including:
- Report any fallen or broken power lines immediately to your power company. Do not touch them under any circumstances.
- Do not drive or walk through standing water if power lines may have fallen in the water.
- If you come in contact with a power line while in your car, stay in your car and drive away if possible. If you are unable to drive away, stay in your vehicle and call emergency services. Wait until emergency services arrive, and do not let anyone close to your vehicle.
- Call an electrician to fix electrical circuits that are wet or near water. If possible, turn off power at the main breaker but never enter standing water to access it.
- Never work on or near an electrical source while standing in water, especially if using an electrical tool.
- Make sure that electrical equipment is completely dry before restoring power.
- Have a certified electrician confirm that turning the power back on is safe.
- Turn off your main circuit breaker if there is a burning odor but no obvious source, or if you can see sparks and frayed wires when you turn the power back on.
- When installing or using a generator, talk to your utility company about usage. Don't use generators without approved, automatic-interrupt devices. Generators can be a fire hazard if they remain online once electricity resumes.
Electrical shock occurs when a high voltage current travels through the body. This usually happens when someone accidentally comes into contact with an electrical source. The aftercare may require anything from minor first aid care to treatment for internal and external burns.
It's essential to be aware of potential electrical hazards to best prevent them from occurring. If you suspect that someone has experienced an electrical shock, call for help and ensure the voltage source is no longer a danger before helping the victim.
What Is Post Electric Shock Syndrome?
A Word From Verywell
Electrical shock is almost always accidental, as well as preventable. The resulting injuries can range from minor to severe and, in some cases, fatal. Therefore, it's essential to be aware of electrical dangers in and around your home to keep you and any small children safe. If you have any cause for concern, consider having a certified electrician visit your house or call your electrical company.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the lasting effects of electric shock?
Lasting effects of electric shock may include:
- Burns on the skin or in the body that leave permanent scars
- Nerve damage
- Cardiac arrest or abnormal heart rhythms that can be fatal or cause long-term health issues
- If a person falls due to muscle contractions or seizures during electrical shock, it may cause broken bones, head injuries, or other blunt injuries.
How many volts of electric shock can the body handle?
Electrical shock is categorized as high (above 1,000 volts) or low (lower than 100 volts). High voltage injuries cause greater fatalities. However, a fatal injury can be caused by a current as low as 110 volts.
In addition to voltage, several other factors determine how much of an electrical shock the body can handle, including:
- The type of current
- The pathway of the current through the body
- The duration of exposure
- The electrical resistance to the current
Can an electric shock be transferred from one person to another?
Yes, an electrical shock can be transferred from one person to another. If you suspect someone has had an electrical shock, first examine them visually but don't touch them. If the person is still connected to the electrical source, they can pass the electrical current on to you.
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Electrical injury.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Protect yourself from electrical hazards|natural disasters and severe weather.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Electric shock injuries in children.
Merck Manual Consumer Version. Electrical injuries.
By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.
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- Turn off the source of electricity, if possible. ...
- Begin CPR if the person shows no signs of circulation, such as breathing, coughing or movement.
- Try to prevent the injured person from becoming chilled.
- Apply a bandage.
If any part of your body meets live electricity an electric current flows through the tissues, which causes an electric shock. People sometimes call it electrocution. Depending on the length and severity the electric shock, injuries can include: burns to the skin.What is the best treatment for electric shock? ›
If there is an electrical burn, you can treat it in the same way as you would any other burn. Put the burnt area under running water for at least 20 minutes then cover with a sterile gauze bandage, if available, or a clean cloth. Do not use a blanket or towel, because loose fibers can stick to the burns.What are 4 effects of electric shock? ›
When nerves are affected by an electric shock, the consequences include pain, tingling, numbness, weakness or difficulty moving a limb. These effects may clear up with time or be permanent.What are 5 treatments of shock? ›
- Lay the Person Down, if Possible.
- Begin CPR, if Necessary.
- Treat Obvious Injuries.
- Keep Person Warm and Comfortable.
- Follow Up.