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Drain cleaner poisoning

Drain cleaners contain very dangerous chemicals that can be harmful to your health if swallowed, breathed in (inhaled), or come in contact with your skin and eyes.

This article discusses poisoning from swallowing or breathing in drain cleaner.

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

Sodium hydroxide

Where Found

  • Some drain cleaners
  • Some aquarium products

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.

Symptoms

  • Breathing difficulty due to throat swelling
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of vision if the poison touched the eyes
  • Mouth pain (severe)
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure
  • Throat pain (severe)
  • Severe burns and tissue damage

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 was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. DO NOT give water or milk if the patient is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

DO NOT give vinegar or lemon juice, as this may cause more severe burning.

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

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. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call  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. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:

  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Oxygen
  • Pain medicines
  • Sometimes, surgery to remove burned tissue from the stomach and intestine

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 in the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the drain cleaner was swallowed.

Death may occur as long as a month after the drain cleaner was swallowed.

References

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

Marx J. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 6th ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby; 2006:2380-2381.

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, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


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