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Varnish poisoning

Varnish is a clear liquid coating. Varnish poisoning occurs when someone swallows varnish.

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

Resin part:

  • Amber
  • Balsam
  • Rosin
  • Various substances produced from plants and insects (such as lac, urethanes)

Solvent part:

  • Ethanol
  • Mineral spirits
  • Turpentine

Where Found

  • Some varnishes

Symptoms

Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:

  • Loss of vision
  • Severe pain in the throat
  • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue

Gastrointestinal:

Kidneys and bladder:

Lungs and airways:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)

Heart and blood:

Nervous system:

  • Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
  • Dizziness
  • Impaired memory
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Loss of coordination
  • Sensation of being drunk
  • Severe brain damage
  • Sleepiness
  • Stupor
  • Walking difficulties

Skin:

  • Burns
  • Irritation

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

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

Poison Control

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.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:

  • Breathing support, including a tube down the throat and to the lungs connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest X-ray
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Fluid through the vein (by IV)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Extensive damage is possible to the:

  • Lungs
  • Mouth
  • Stomach
  • Throat

The outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Damage can continue to occur for several weeks after the substance was swallowed.

References

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 158.

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.

Update Date: 1/24/2014

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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