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Electric shocks and burns

Electric shocks are caused by contact with live electricity that sends an electric current through the body.

Common causes include:

  • exposed electrical wires
  • water on electrical appliances
  • cutting through a live cable
  • old wiring
  • faulty appliances.

Electric shocks are occasionally caused by lightning.

Electric shocks can cause little more than a fright and some pain, or they can be severe enough to knock someone unconscious and stop their heart.

If someone near you receives an electric shock, do not put yourself in danger:

  • look first, don’t touch – the person may still be in contact with the electricity, and if you touch them, you will receive an electric shock
  • switch off the electricity at the mains, remove fuses, turn off all powerpoints and unplug all cords before approaching the person
  • if that’s not possible, use material that does not conduct electricity, such as a dry wooden broom handle, to separate the person from the electricity source
  • take particular care if the victim is in contact with water, which carries electricity.

Always take the person who has been shocked to the nearest emergency department for assessment. Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if the person who has received an electric shock:

  • has lost consciousness, even for a second
  • is breathing very fast or very slow
  • has a heartbeat which is very fast, or very slow, or irregular.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your electric shocked or electric burn, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Last reviewed: August 2017

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