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First Aid for Oxalic Acid Poisoning

Last updated July 9, 2017

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Oxalic Acid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of oxalic acid or oxalic acid compound.

What is Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

  • Oxalic acid is a colorless organic compound with a wide-range of use in cleaning and bleaching applications. It is also found in certain plants such as rhubarb and jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Oxalic Acid Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of oxalic acid or oxalic acid 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)

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

  • Ethanedioic Acid Poisoning
  • Oxalic Acid Toxicity
  • Wood Bleach Poisoning (Oxalic Acid Poisoning)

What are the Causes of Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

  • Oxalic Acid Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of substances containing oxalic acid. The exposure may also occur following skin or eye contact, and due to inhalation of the acid vapors
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Oxalic acid is found naturally in several house decoration plants including rhubarb, jack-in-the-pulpit plant, and Virginia creeper
  • The acid may be also found in certain home and industrial products including metal cleaners, bleaching fluid (wood bleach), rust removal agents, cleaning solution for crystal gems, and in beekeeping

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 Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

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

  • Severe burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe
  • Swelling of the mouth and tongue; unable to speak clearly
  • Formation of mouth ulcers that may affect the functions of speaking and swallowing
  • Severe skin burns and blister formation
  • Vomiting
  • Contact with the eye may result in pain, redness, watery eyes, and potential damage to the cornea of the eye
  • Seizures and tremors (shaking)
  • Collapse

How is First Aid administered for Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Oxalic 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; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • 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
  • If skin exposure or involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • 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:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of drug in the body
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

First aid for Oxalic 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 Oxalic Acid Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Oxalic 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 that occur due to mild poisoning or skin contact, the outcome is generally good, with appropriate medication and early support
  • In case of severe symptoms due to severe exposure/poisoning, it may prolong time of recovery. A substantial intake of oxalic acid may severely burn and damage the mouth and gastrointestinal tract with fatal outcomes, if treatment is delayed

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 Oxalic Acid Poisoning be Prevented?

Oxalic 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
  • 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: July 9, 2017
Last updated: July 9, 2017