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Caution With Caustics

The Bottom Line

Caustic products cause burns on contact with skin, eyes, and the gastrointestinal tract. More than other household products, caustic substances do their damage instantly. Injury cannot be reversed, only treated.

The Full Story

Chemical burns are one of the most devastating injuries that can happen at home. Recently, a young child drank from a container of cleaning fluid that his dad brought home from work. The liquid burned his mouth and throat, then burned all the way down to his stomach. He survived, but with serious injuries. He will need surgery many times over the next several years.

Such dangerous chemicals are also found at home. "Caustics" are very strong acids (pH ≤2) or very strong alkaline products (pH ≥12). They can be liquids or powders or granules. Chemical burns occur instantly if these products touch your mouth, eyes, or skin.

This photo above on the left is from a household drain cleaner. Most people know that this type of product is dangerous. Other products at home that can cause chemical burns include oven cleaner, rust remover, toilet bowl cleaner, dishwasher detergents, some laundry pod detergents, some swimming pool chemicals, and cleaning products for brick and concrete.

Protect yourself, your family members, and your pets from chemical burns. More than other household products, these substances do their damage instantly. Injury cannot be reversed, only treated.

  • Purchase a caustic product only if nothing else will do the job.
  • Buy only the amount that you need. Store it safely, locked out of sight and reach of children and pets.
  • Store products in their original containers with the child-resistant cap on tightly.
  • NEVER transfer these products into food or beverage containers.
  • Read the label carefully and follow directions exactly.
  • Wear gloves, protect your skin, and open the windows if the label says to do so.
  • Do NOT use these products when children or pets are around.

Here are first aid tips for working with products that can cause chemical burns.

  • If it splashes into your eyes, IMMEDIATELY rinse with running water for at least 20 minutes. Then call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If it splashes onto your skin, IMMEDIATELY rinse with running water for at least 20 minutes. Take off any clothing with the product on it while you're rinsing. Then call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If you breathe in the fumes, get into fresh air IMMEDIATELY. Then call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.
  • If you swallow it, drink a small amount of water or milk IMMEDIATELY. Then, use the webPOISONCONTROL® online tool for guidance, or call Poison Control at 1-800-222-1222.

Rose Ann Gould Soloway, RN, BSN, MSEd, DABAT emerita
Clinical Toxicologist


For More Information

Goodbye Winter Grime, Hello Safe Spring Cleaning! (The Poison Post®)


References

Bertinelli A, Hamill J, Mahadevan M, Miles F. Serious injuries from dishwasher powder ingestions in small children. Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2006;42:129–133.

Beuhler MC, Gala PK, Wolfe HA, Meaney PA, Henretig FM. Laundry detergent "pod" ingestions: a case series and discussion of recent literature. Pediatr Emer Care. 2013;29:743-747.

Riffat F, Cheng A. Pediatric caustic ingestion: 50 consecutive cases and a review of the literature. Diseases of the Esophagus. 2009;22:89–94. DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-2050.2008.00867.x

Poisoned?

Call 1-800-222-1222 or

HELP ME online

Prevention Tips

  • Purchase a caustic product only if nothing else will do the job.
  • Store products in their original containers with the child-resistant cap on tightly.
  • NEVER transfer these products into food or beverage containers.
  • Read the label carefully and follow directions exactly.

This Really Happened

A 75-year-old woman swallowed a liquid drain opener which had been transferred to a water bottle. Two days later she went to the emergency room complaining of chest pain, throat pain, and trouble swallowing. A CT scan of her chest revealed inflammation of her esophagus (food tube). A gastroenterologist performed an endoscopy (a lighted tube is inserted into the body) of her esophagus, stomach and the upper part of her small intestine, three days after she ingested the drain cleaner. The endoscopy revealed a burn in her esophagus.

The patient was placed on an intravenous drug to decrease stomach secretions and a liquid diet excluding any acidic substances. She was released from the hospital four days after the ingestion. During a follow-up call from Poison Control to the home two-and-a-half-weeks after the patient drank the drain opener, her daughter reported that she was eating more solid food and was doing well.