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Sulfuric acid poisoning

Definition

Sulfuric acid is a very strong chemical that is corrosive. Corrosive means it can cause severe burns and tissue damage when it comes into contact with the skin or mucous membranes. This article discusses poisoning from sulfuric 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 the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Alternative Names

Battery acid poisoning; Hydrogen sulfate poisoning; Oil of vitriol poisoning; Matting acid poisoning; Vitriol brown oil poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

Sulfuric acid

Where Found

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Initial symptoms include severe pain on contact.

Symptoms from swallowing may also include:

  • Breathing difficulty due to throat swelling
  • Burns in the mouth and throat
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Rapid development of low blood pressure
  • Severe pain in the mouth and throat
  • Speech problems
  • Vomiting, with blood
  • Vision loss

Symptoms from breathing in the poison may include:

Home Treatment

Do NOT make a person throw up. 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. 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:

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

Take the container with you to the emergency room.

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:

  • Breathing tube and oxygen
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Milk of magnesia
  • Surgery to repair any tissue damage
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days

Expectations (prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on how fast the poison is diluted and neutralized. Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, eyes, lungs, esophagus, nose, and stomach are possible. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage.

Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed, and death may occur as long as a month later. Treatment may require removal of part of the esophagus and stomach.

Swallowing the poison can cause death.

References

Harchelroad FP Jr, Rottinghaus DM. Chemical burns. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 200.


Review Date: 9/30/2009
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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