Chemical burns are not as common as thermal burns, but they’re just as destructive to human tissue. In this particular instance the individual committed suicide by drinking a large quantity of sulfuric acid. Sulfuric acid is particularly nasty because it’s chemical composition quickly disrupts the covalent bonds the lipid membrane of cells and denatures proteins, causing instant cellular death. This results in the tissues presenting with what we call coagulative necrosis; the cells of the tissues are all dead but still maintaining the structure of the tissue. Eventually the inner lining of the digestive tract just sloughs off.
Usually with suicidal ingestion of caustic chemicals there’s some sort of drip pattern. It’s not like they just drink it like a soda and then go lie down and die; it’s painful from the get go and that would mean some wiggling and thrashing around, spilling it all over you.
As you can see here the individual not only spilled around his mouth but down his chest, causing chemical burns the whole way down. If you think this looks bad, let’s take a look and see what a severe caustic burn looks like on the inside.
Here we can see the acid completely destroyed the tissues of the tongue and the pharynx. The striking thing to see here is that the acid was also active in the larynx, meaning the guy managed to not only drink a caustic liquid but also inhale it into his lungs. I can’t begin to imagine what the pain was like.
Here we see that the acid didn’t just stay in the lungs and digestive tract, it managed to coat the internal plura and expose the ribs. This is because sulfuric acid is really good at eating through mucosa because of its chemical properties.
Finally, here is what severe chemical burns to the internal organs look like. On the left we have the heart in between each lung. The dark color of the organs correspond to the coagulative necrosis I mentioned earlier. It’s important to notice the shape and contortion of the lungs, that’s definitely not normal and possibly explains how the acid coated the heart and internal pleura. In the middle is the liver with the kidneys to the right of it. Notice you can still see coloring of the top kidney, which I suspect to be the left kidney since that would put it further from the liver. That dark blob on the bottom right is the stomach, completely necrotic from the acid. Since the acid immediately pooled there it was subject to longer exposure and probably perforated since sulfuric acid chews through mucosa easier than other tissues. This also explains how the acid was able to leak on the liver and kidneys.
Chemical burns are different from thermal injuries because they can be largely internal and burn from “the inside out” like in this particular case. In adults it’s almost always related to suicide, however in children it’s almost always accidental ingestion.