Hydrofluoric Acid, an Unexpected Surprise

Mil Med. 2022 Jun 24:usac179. doi: 10.1093/milmed/usac179. Online ahead of print.


We report the case of a 37-year-old man presenting with pain out of proportion to the exam with hydrofluoric acid burns to his upper extremities after he spilled a wheel-stripping compound on his forearms while working at his powder coating business. His burns initially appeared mild and superficial, but over the course of several days, these evolved from simple erythema to significant partial thickness tissue destruction and ulceration. He required substantial topical, intradermal, and intravenous therapies to control the unseen burning process during his index visit to the emergency department. We transferred the patient to a burn center given the location of his burns and the causative agent. The burn center clinicians observed him over the course of two nights and then discharged him with instructions to come for multiple follow-up visits during the subsequent month. Following nonoperative management, he had an uneventful recovery with full function retained in the affected extremities. Hydrofluoric acid burns require prompt treatment with calcium to neutralize the burning process, despite a potentially benign initial appearance. The emergency clinician should use an aggressive diagnostic and therapeutic approach to patients presenting with pain out of proportion to their exam, as this finding is associated with various serious underlying pathology.