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Potassium hydroxide poisoning

This article discusses poisoning from swallowing or touching potassium hydroxide or products that contain this chemical.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Potassium hydroxide

Where Found

  • Cuticle removal products
  • Drain cleaners
  • Leather tanning chemicals
  • Caustic potash or potash lye

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.

Symptoms

Symptoms from swallowing potassium hydroxide include:

Symptoms from getting potassium hydroxide on the skin or in the eyes include:

  • Burning
  • Severe pain
  • Vision loss

Home Treatment

Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.

If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider.

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (and ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed or contacted
  • The amount swallowed or contacted

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The patient may receive:

  • Breathing support, including breathing tube
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids by IV
  • Medicines to treat symptoms and pain

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the potassium hydroxide was swallowed, and death may occur as long as a month later.

Updated: 2/1/2013

Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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