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Hydrochloric acid poisoning

Hydrocholoric acid is a clear, poisonous liquid. It is highly corrosive, which means it immediately causes severe damage, such as burning, on contact.

This article discusses poisoning due to swallowing or breathing in hydrochloric 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 a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Hydrochloric acid

Where Found

  • Certain fertilizers
  • Pool chemicals
  • Soldering fluxes

This list is not all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Symptoms from swallowing hydrochloric acid may include:

  • Abdominal pain - severe
  • Breathing difficulty due to swelling of throat
  • Chest pain - severe
  • Drooling
  • Fever
  • Mouth pain - severe
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure
  • Throat pain - severe
  • Vomiting blood

Symptoms from breathing in hydrochloric acid:

If the poison touches your skin or eyes, you may have:

  • Blisters
  • Burns
  • Pain
  • Vision loss

Home Care

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 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

If possible, determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition (for example, is the person awake or alert?)
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • When it was swallowed or inhaled
  • How much was swallowed or inhaled

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control

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. 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

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The patient may receive:

  • Breathing tube
  • 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 by IV
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
  • Oxygen

Outlook (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.

Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach are possible. Drinking or breathing in hydrochloric acid may be deadly.

References

Medical Management Guidelines for Hydrogen Chloride. Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry (ATSDR). Atlanta, GA.

 

Update Date: 2/1/2013

Updated by: 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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