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Toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers poisoning

Toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers are substances used to clean and remove odors from toilets. Poisoning may occur if someone swallows toilet bowl cleaner or deodorizer.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

The substances in these products that can be harmful are:

  • Detergents
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Phenol

Where Found

There are many types of toilet cleaners and deodorizers available.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of this type of poisoning in different parts of the body.

BLOOD

  • Severe change in blood acid level (can lead to organ damage)

EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT

  • Burns and pain in the throat
  • Burns and pain in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
  • Drooling from burns
  • Loss of vision

HEART AND BLOOD VESSELS

LUNGS AND AIRWAYS

  • Breathing difficulty due to throat swelling
  • Burns of the breathing passages
  • Irritation

NERVOUS SYSTEM

  • Coma
  • Headache
  • Seizures

SKIN

  • Burns
  • Ulcers in the skin or tissues under the skin
  • Irritation

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Blood in the stool
  • Burns in the food pipe (esophagus)
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea and vomiting, sometimes containing blood
  • Severe abdominal pain

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. If the product is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the person swallowed the product, give them water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness. If the person breathed in the product, move them to fresh air right away.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline 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.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

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

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Blood and urine tests.
  • Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator).
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing).
  • Endoscopy -- camera placed down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach.
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV).
  • Medicines to treat symptoms.
  • Surgery to remove burned skin.
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation). This may need to be done every few hours for several days.

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well someone does depends on how much of the product they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery. Toilet bowl cleaners and deodorizers can cause extensive damage in the:

  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Stomach
  • Throat

The outcome will depend on the extent of this damage.

Delayed injury may occur, including a hole forming in the throat, esophagus, or stomach. This can lead to severe bleeding and infection. Surgical procedures may be needed to correct these complications.

If the product gets in the eye, ulcers may develop in the cornea, the clear part of the eye. This can cause blindness.

References

Hoyte C . Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.

Theobald JL, Kostic MA. Poisoning. In: Kliegman RM, St Geme JW, Blum NJ, Shah SS, Tasker RC, Wilson KM, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 77.

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          Review Date: 11/13/2021

          Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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