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Carbolic acid poisoning

Carbolic acid is a sweet-smelling clear liquid that is added to many different products. Carbolic acid poisoning occurs when someone touches or swallows this chemical.

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

Phenol

Where Found

  • Adhesive dyes
  • Lubricating oils
  • Perfumes
  • Textiles
  • Various antiseptics
  • Various disinfectants
  • Various germicides

Note: This list may not include all products containing carbolic acid.

Symptoms

Bladder and kidneys:

  • Blue- or green-colored urine
  • Decreased urine output
  • No urine output

Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat:

  • Severe burns in the mouth and windpipe (esophagus)
  • Yellow eyes

Gastrointestinal system:

  • Abdominal pain - severe
  • Bloody stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting - possibly bloody

Heart and blood:

  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

Lungs and airways:

  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Wheezing

Nervous system:

Skin:

Whole body:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Heavy sweating

Home Care

Get medical help right away. 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. Do NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (ingredients and strengths, 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 tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Laxative
  • Medicines to relieve pain
  • Skin creams to treat burns

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.

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.

Alternative Names

Phenol poisoning; Phenylic acid poisoning; Hydroxybenzene poisoning; Phenic acid poisoning; Benzenol poisoning

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). 2008. Toxicological profile for Phenol. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service.

Levine MD, Zane R. Chemical Injuries. 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 64.

Wax PM, Young A. Caustics. 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 153.

Update Date: 1/31/2014

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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