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First Aid for Carbolic Acid Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 27, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Carbolic Acid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. The exposure may be through skin or eye contact or following an ingestion of the chemical.

What is Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

  • Carbolic acid or phenol is a sweet-smelling organic compound. It is normally present as a liquid and has a potential to cause chemical burns on exposed skin
  • Carbolic acid and its derivative products have a wide range of industrial and commercial applications. It is used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical drugs, cosmetics, polycarbonates and plastics, herbicides, nylon, textiles, dyes and adhesives
  • Carbolic Acid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. The exposure may be through skin or eye contact or following an ingestion of the chemical
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Carbolic Acid Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Benzenol Poisoning
  • Carbolic Acid Toxicity
  • Hydroxybenzene Poisoning
  • Phenic Acid Poisoning
  • Phenol Poisoning
  • Phenylic Acid Poisoning

What are the Causes of Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

  • Carbolic Acid Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of carbolic acid (liquid). The exposure may also be through direct skin or eye contact
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Inhalation of the corrosive carbolic acid vapors may lead to respiratory problems
  • The poisonous ingredient of the acid is phenol

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Carbolic Acid Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body, such as the digestive system, respiratory system, vascular system, nervous system, urinary system, skin and ENT may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Carbolic Acid Poisoning may include:

  • Severe burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe
  • Severe skin burns; the skin may turn pale yellow (yellow eyes)
  • Bluish discoloration of lips and beneath fingernails
  • Respiratory difficulties, which may be severe if the chemical is inhaled; wheezing
  • Urination difficulties (little or no urine production); blue/green urine
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting (blood in vomit may be seen)
  • Diarrhea; bloody stools
  • Stomach and abdominal pain that may be severe and cramping
  • Increased heart-rate
  • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Over-excitement
  • Disorientation, low level of alertness
  • Seizures
  • Paralysis
  • Collapse and coma

How is First Aid administered for Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Carbolic Acid Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Carefully remove the individual from the exposure area
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If skin exposure or involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give milk to drink (if instructed by the healthcare professional)
  • In case of symptoms that indicate difficulty in swallowing including vomiting or decreased alertness, do not give anything by way of mouth
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Following this, a suitable skin or eye ointment may be used to treat the exposure
  • Administer laxatives for elimination of the substance from the body
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

First aid for Carbolic Acid Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Carbolic Acid Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Carbolic Acid Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms, with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good
  • In case of severe symptoms including severe burns, abnormal heart rates, seizures, and coma, it may considerably worsen the outcome
  • Ingesting carbolic acid can result in long-term damage to the mouth and food-pipe; the chemical has the potential to continue causing damage to the affected region, even after exposure is ceased. In such cases, death may occur after a period of time, even after a month

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Carbolic Acid Poisoning be Prevented?

Carbolic Acid Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • Keeping cosmetics, medications, and other healthcare products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations
  • Using appropriate protective wear when working with such chemicals
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 9, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 27, 2018