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First Aid for Metal Polish Poisoning

Last updated March 1, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Metal Polish Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of metal polish products or solutions.

What is Metal Polish Poisoning?

  • Metal polishing compounds constitute a wide range of cleaning and polishing agents used for metals, specifically stainless steel, copper, brass, chromium, aluminum, bronze, and many others
  • Metal polishes may be available in solid, paste, liquid, or powder form. They may be homemade or purchased from a store. Metal polish are of two types - chemical type and abrasive type
  • Metal Polish Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of metal polish products or solutions
  • 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)

Metal Polish Poisoning may be referred to as the following:

  • Brasso Poisoning
  • Metal Polish Toxicity
  • Tarn-X Poisoning

What are the Causes of Metal Polish Poisoning?

  • Metal Polish Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of metal polish used for metal surfaces of a wide range of products. The cleaning fluids may also get into one’s eyes and cause irritation and pain
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Metal polish may contain many toxic chemicals depending on their use (type of metal being polished). These include ammonia, oxalic/sulfuric/phosphoric acid, denatured alcohol, silica, thiourea, petroleum distillates and naphtha, 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 Metal Polish Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Metal Polish Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Breathing difficulties, if the powder or fumes are inhaled. This may also affect the nose, eyes, and throat
  • Burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe (even the stomach may be burnt)
  • Severe gastrointestinal tract burns may result in perforation of the GI tract
  • Speaking and swallowing difficulties due to swelling of tongue and throat
  • Severe skin irritation and burns (perforations on the skin may be observed)
  • Headaches and weaknesses
  • If metal polish gets in the eye, then eye irritation and pain
  • Loss of vision
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Blood in stool and vomit
  • Sudden decrease in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Feeling nervous, dizzy
  • Low response level, unable to walk steadily
  • Seizures
  • Collapse and coma

How is First Aid administered for Metal Polish Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Metal Polish 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
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If exposure of the eye or skin has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

In case of any emergencies, the emergency medical health professional may take the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administration of pain medication
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Wash eyes and skin repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining compound
  • Surgical treatment for skin burns including removal of burnt skin
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Metal Polish Poisoning?

First aid for Metal Polish 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 Metal Polish Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Metal Polish 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. The outcome is also dependent on the type of chemical compound that was swallowed
  • Severe exposure of body organs (mouth, throat, gastrointestinal tract including stomach) to the chemical can lead to complications and irreversible damage
  • Some metal polishes have the potential to continue causing damage to the affected region, even after exposure is ceased. Deaths have been reported following months after the incident

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 Metal Polish Poisoning be Prevented?

Metal Polish Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any household products
  • DO NOT store portions of the liquid in smaller containers and leave them unattended
  • 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 (such as face masks and hand gloves)
  • 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 31, 2017
Last updated: March 1, 2018