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First Aid for Caustic Soda Poisoning

Last updated March 2, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Caustic Soda Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound.

What is Caustic Soda Poisoning?

  • Caustic soda (or sodium hydroxide) is a chemical compound in the form of a colorless and odorless crystal powder. It is also known as lye
  • Sodium hydroxide has a variety of domestic, commercial, and industrial uses. It is used in soaps and detergents, textiles, dyes, pulp and paper products, explosives, and petroleum products
  • Caustic Soda Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound
  • 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)

Caustic Soda Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Ascarite Poisoning
  • Caustic Soda Toxicity
  • Lye Poisoning
  • Sodium Hydrate Poisoning
  • Sodium Hydroxide Poisoning
  • Sodium Hydroxide Toxicity
  • Sodium Oxidanide Poisoning
  • White Caustic Poisoning

What are the Causes of Caustic Soda Poisoning?

  • Caustic Soda Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of sodium hydroxide based compounds. The chemical is strong and it can produce severe injury to the exposed regions
  • Exposure to the substance through direct contact may affect the skin and eyes. In powder form, the substance may also be inhaled, resulting in symptoms
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Caustic soda is commonly found in drain, oven, and aquarium cleaners, bleaches, hair relaxers, metal cleaning solutions, etc.

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 Caustic Soda Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Caustic Soda 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, respiratory, vascular, nervous, skin and ENT systems, may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Caustic Soda Poisoning may include:

  • Sneezing
  • Breathing difficulties, if fumes of the solution or chemical powders are inhaled
  • Speaking and swallowing difficulties due to swelling of tongue and throat
  • Inflammation of the lung
  • Severe burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe (even the stomach may be burnt); drooling from the mouth
  • Due to this, the eyes, nose, and ears may be affected
  • Severe damage along the gastrointestinal tract including the stomach; severe stomach pain
  • Severe skin irritation and burns (perforations on the skin may be observed)
  • Loss of vision
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood in stool and vomit
  • Sudden decrease in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Shock
  • Collapse
  • Severe changes in blood pH value affecting many parts of the body and organs

How is First Aid administered for Caustic Soda Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Caustic Soda 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
  • 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:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of drug from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer medications to counter the effect of the substance in the body
  • 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
  • Surgical treatment for skin burns including removal of burnt skin
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Caustic Soda Poisoning?

First aid for Caustic Soda 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 Caustic Soda Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Caustic Soda 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
  • The prognosis can only be assessed on a case-by-case basis and is dependent upon the quantity and strength of the compound ingested. In case of severe symptoms including severe burns and organ damage, it may considerably worsen the outcome
  • Ingesting large quantities of sodium hydroxide can result in long-term damage to the mouth, food-pipe, and stomach; the chemical has the potential to continue causing damage to the affected region, even after exposure is ceased. In some cases, fatalities have been reported
  • Skin burns may be severe and if the eye is affected, it can also result in total loss of vision

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 Caustic Soda Poisoning be Prevented?

Caustic Soda Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always follow 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
  • Wearing 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: Aug. 2, 2017
Last updated: March 2, 2018