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Hydrofluoric acid poisoning

Hydrofluoric acid is a very strong inorganic acid. This article discusses poisoning from swallowing, breathing in, or touching hydrofluoric acid.

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.

Alternative Names

Fluorhydric acid

Poisonous Ingredient

Hydrofluoric acid

Where Found

This acid is most commonly used for industrial purposes. It is used in:

  • Computer screens manufacturing
  • Fluorescent bulbs
  • Glass etching
  • High octane gasoline manufacturing
  • Some household rust removers

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.

Symptoms

From swallowing:

From breathing in (inhaling) the acid:

  • Bluish colored lips and fingernails
  • Chills
  • Choking
  • Coughing
  • Fever
  • Tight chest

From touching the acid:

  • Very painful skin burning

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.

Immediately take the person to the hospital.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

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

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

If you suspect possible poisoning, seek emergency medical care immediately.

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 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

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. Swallowing this acid can cause a severe drop in blood pressure. If the person breathed in fumes from the acid, the health care provider may hear signs of fluid in the lungs when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.

Specific treatment depends on how the poisoning occurred. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.

If the person swallowed the poison, treatment may include:

  • A tube thru the nose into the stomach to empty the stomach (gastric lavage )
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Endotracheal intubation to prevent the windpipe from swelling shut due to burns
  • Magnesium and calcium solutions to neutralize the acid
  • Pain medicines

If the person touched the poison, treatment may include:

  • Rinsing and cleaning of wound area
  • Magnesium and calcium solutions applied to skin to neutralize the acid (solutions may also be given through an IV)
  • Monitoring to watch for signs of body-wide poisoning
  • Pain medicines

If the person breathed in the poison, treatment may include:

  • Breathing tube for severe injuries
  • Breathing treatments that deliver calcium into your lungs
  • Pain medicines

Expectations (prognosis)

Hydroflouric acid is especially dangerous. The most common accidents occur with hydroflouric acid causing severe burns on the skins and hands. The burns may be extremely painful. Patients will have a lot of scarring and some loss of function of the area involved.

Persons who swallow hydroflouric acid can have a lot of damage to the inside organs, which can lead to a painful death.

References

Chemical Emergencies: Case Definition: Hydrofluoric Acid. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, US Dept of Health and Human Services; 2005.

Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2006.

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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