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Drain opener poisoning

Definition

Drain opening agents are chemicals used to open clogged drains, often in homes. Drain opening agent poisoning can occur if a child accidentally drinks these chemicals, or if someone splashes the poison into the eyes when pouring it or breathes in the fumes of "foaming" drain openers.

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.

Alternative Names

Drain opening agents

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Lye (sodium hydroxide or caustic soda)
  • Potassium hydroxide
  • Sulfuric acid

Where Found

Note: This list may not include all sources of drain opening agents.

Symptoms

  • Blood
    • Severe change in acid level of blood (pH balance), which leads to damage in all of the body organs
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • Burns to the eyes, which may result in permanent vision loss
    • Severe pain in the throat
    • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
  • Gastrointestinal
  • Heart and blood
  • Lungs and airways
    • Breathing difficulty (from breathing in drain opening agent)
    • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Skin
    • Burns
    • Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
    • 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 (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 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 for pain
  • Oxygen
  • 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.

If this type of poison gets in the eye, it can be very dangerous and difficult to manage. Loss of vision is common. Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body.

Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed.

References

Wax PM, Yarema M. Corrosives. 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 98.


Review Date: 2/28/2012
Reviewed 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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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