Brain and Body

How Do the Body and Mind Heal After a Vicious Acid Attack?

January 4, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

victims of acid attacks
Photo credit: iulian circo/flickr (CC by SA 2.0)

An acid attack survivor says a girl will become a victim of acid throwing every single day.

Acid throwing, also referred to as an acid attack, is an extremely violent assault that leaves the victim with severe burns, permanent scarring and disfigurement, and even blindness. The perpetrators of these attacks usually use sulfuric, nitric, or hydrochloric acid and throw it at their victims’ faces with the intent to maim, torture, or kill them.

Acid attacks happen all over the world, but most of the acid throwing is reported in South Asia, particularly Bangladesh. Between 1999 and 2013, over 3,500 Bangladeshi people have suffered from acid attacks.

According to a study published on medIND, the severity of the damage depends on the concentration of the acid as well as how long it takes for the acid to be thoroughly neutralized or washed off the skin. The strongest and most commonly used acids are sulfuric and nitric, and they rapidly eat away the skin, the layer of fat beneath the skin, and in severe cases, even the bone beneath. The nose and ears can be severely damaged, and eyelids and lips may be completely destroyed.

The Stop Acid Attacks Organization says that it’s most important to wash an acid burn with clean or saline water right after the attack, and that it may take 30 to 45 minutes for the victim’s burning sensation to start to fade. One of the most common misconceptions is that an acid burn should be immediately treated with oil or ointment, but this could actually slow the treatment procedure by doctors or worsen the burns.

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After an acid attack, the skin is at an extremely high risk for infection. The room and washroom used by an acid victim must be thoroughly disinfected at least 2 to 3 times a day, and the survivor also must be dressed in proper clothes to ensure that the burns do not come in contact with each other and stick together. In some cases, skin grafts are needed to cover the open wounds.

In addition to the physical harm to the body, the gruesome attacks can lead to long-term social, psychological, and economic difficulties.

Research published in the International Journal of Criminology and Sociological Theory states that acid assault survivors face a slew of mental health issues upon recovery, including higher levels of anxiety and depression, lower self-esteem according to the Rosenberg Scale, and increased self-consciousness in the social sphere.

Coming to terms with the trauma of the attack and the radical life transformation after the fact are some of the biggest challenges a survivor will have to overcome, according to the Acid Survivors Trust International.

However, the social impact following an acid attack may also be one of the most daunting obstacles. Since many women are left blind or with disfigured hands, it can be difficult to find work or do simple daily tasks around the house. The victims are often left dependent on spouses or family members, and most are discouraged to even leave the house out of fear of public reactions to their faces.

What’s extremely unsettling is that concentrated acid is extremely cheap and easy to get ahold of. Reshma Bano Qureshi, an acid attack survivor, made a viral beauty video in which she explains that it’s as easy for a perpetrator to buy acid as it is for her to buy a tube of red lipstick. In fact, Qureshi says that a girl will become a victim of an acid attack every single day.

To end on a happier note, the Acid Survivors Trust International reports that there’s been a significant reduction in acid attacks in the past few years — they dropped from 496 in 2002 to under 100 in 2011. Hopefully in the years to come, a global effort to eradicate this physically and mentally scarring crime will bring this number to zero.

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