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First Aid for Shellac Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 20, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Shellac Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the compound. The intake may be through swallowing the shellac liquid products.


What is Shellac Poisoning?

  • Shellac is a naturally-derived resin obtained from the lac bug (insect) found in certain Asian countries. It finds various applications in the paint industry as a primer, sealant, varnishing agent, paint remover, and for providing polish and glazing coat for wood furniture
  • It also acts as an effective stain blocker and water vapor barrier. Some forms of shellac are used in the confectionary and cosmetic industry. Even though shellac is not known to be toxic, certain alcohol-based additives make shellac-based paint products highly-toxic
  • Shellac Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of the compound. The intake may be through swallowing the shellac liquid products
  • 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)

Shellac Poisoning may be also referred to as Shellac Toxicity.

What are the Causes of Shellac Poisoning?

  • Shellac Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of shellac products. The chemical may also get into the eye, resulting in eye-related symptoms
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • The toxic ingredients contained in the products may be alcohols, such as ethanol methanol, and isopropanol, and other chemical pigments and agents

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 Shellac Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Shellac 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, urinary system, skin and ENT may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Shellac Poisoning may include:

  • Bluish discoloration of lips and beneath fingernails
  • Skin burns
  • Respiratory difficulties; absence of breathing
  • Fluid or blood in the lungs
  • Urination difficulties (reduced urine production)
  • Headache and lethargy
  • Nausea, vomiting (blood in vomit may be seen)
  • Bloody stools
  • Reduction in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Change in blood pH levels, resulting in several organs being affected
  • Individuals act ‘drunk’ or confused
  • Vision abnormalities including blurred vision and loss of vision; dilated pupils
  • Muscle cramps
  • Seizures
  • Renal failure
  • Collapse and coma

How is First Aid administered for Shellac Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Shellac 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 has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water. Any paint on skin may be washed away
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give water 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:

  • 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 medications to counter the effects of the ingested substance
  • Wash eyes or skin repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line
  • Kidney dialysis, if necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Shellac Poisoning?

First aid for Shellac 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 Shellac Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Shellac 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
  • Since, the ingredients of shellac compounds may be highly poisonous, the severity of damage to the body, and consequently the prognosis, is dependent on the amount of chemical ingested and promptness with which treatment is provided
  • Alcohols, such as methanol and isopropanol, contained in shellac compounds can be extremely toxic. In some cases, permanent injuries (including blindness and stroke) and deaths have been reported

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 Shellac Poisoning be Prevented?

Shellac Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any household 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 (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 10, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 20, 2018