Sulfuric acid poisoning
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 article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Battery acid poisoning; Hydrogen sulfate poisoning; Oil of vitriol poisoning; Matting acid poisoning; Vitriol brown oil poisoning
Sulfuric acid is found in:
- Car battery acid
- Certain detergents
- Chemical munitions
- Some fertilizers
- Some toilet bowl cleaners
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
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
- 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:
- Bluish skin, lips, and fingernails
- Breathing difficulty
- Body weakness
- Chest pain (tightness)
- Coughing up blood
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid pulse
- Shortness of breath
Symptoms from skin or eye contact may include:
- Skin burning, drainage, and pain
- Eye burning, drainage, and pain
- Vision loss
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 person is having symptoms (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:
- Person'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.
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. 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.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including:
- Breathing rate
- Blood pressure
Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Blood tests
- Breathing tube and oxygen
- Bronchoscopy, a camera moves down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Endoscopy, a camera moves down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
- Eye irrigation
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
- 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
How well a person 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 is swallowed, and death may occur as long as a month later. Treatment may require the removal of part of the esophagus and stomach.
If the poison enters the lungs serious damage may occur, both immediately and long-term.
Swallowing the poison may cause death.
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.
Wax, PM, Yarema, M. Corrosives. In: Shannon, MW, ed. Shannon: Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 98.
Reviewed 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.