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Metal cleaner poisoning

Metal cleaners are very strong chemical products that contain acids. This article discusses poisoning from swallowing or breathing in such products.

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 the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Metal cleaners contain organic compounds called hydrocarbons, including:

  • 1,2 butylene oxide
  • Boric acid
  • Cocoyl sarcosine
  • Dicarboxylic fatty acid
  • Dimethoxymethane
  • Dodecanedioic acid
  • N-propyl bromide
  • Sodium hydroxide
  • T-butanol

Where Found

Various metal cleaners

Symptoms

  • Airways and lungs
    • Breathing difficulty (from breathing in the chemical)
    • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • Severe pain in the throat
    • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
    • Vision loss
  • Heart and blood
    • Collapse
    • Low blood pressure
  • Intestinal tract (including stomach and esophagus)
    • Abdominal pain - severe
    • Blood in the stool
    • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
    • Diarrhea
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Nervous system
    • Convulsions
    • Depression
    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
    • Headache
    • Loss of alertness (unconsciousness)
    • Seizures
    • Staggering
    • Weakness
  • Skin
    • Burns
    • Irritation
    • Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues

Home Treatment

Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional. Seek immediate medical help.

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. 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.

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 (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national 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. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

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

See: Poison control center - emergency number

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:

  • Bronchoscopy (camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs)
  • Endoscopy -- the placement of a camera down the throat to see the extent of burns to the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Surgery to remove burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage )
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Damage can continue to occur for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month after the poison was swallowed.

References

Mirkin DB. Benzene and related aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 94.

Updated: 2/28/2012

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 David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.


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