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Paint, lacquer, and varnish remover poisoning

This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing or breathing in (sniffing) products to remove paint, lacquer, or 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

Pain, lacquer, and varnish removers may contain the following poisonous ingredients:

  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Formic acid
  • Methyl alcohol
  • Methylene hydrochloride
  • Naphtha
  • Xylene

Where Found

Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers are sold under various brand names.

Symptoms

  • Airways and lungs
    • Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
    • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • Severe pain in the throat
    • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
    • Vision loss
  • Gastrointestinal
    • Abdominal pain -- severe
    • Bloody stools
    • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
    • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Heart and blood
    • Collapse
    • Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
  • Skin
    • Burns
    • Irritation
    • Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues
  • Nervous system
    • Coma
    • Confusion
    • Dizziness (from sniffing)
    • Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
    • Uncoordination
    • Unsteadiness

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 was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider.

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The 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.

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
  • 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)
  • Oxygen
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days

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.

Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage.

Alternative Names

Paint remover poisoning

References

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: 2/28/2012

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 David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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