First Aid for Window Cleaner Poisoning

First Aid for Window Cleaner Poisoning

Ear, Nose, & Throat (ENT)
Brain & Nerve
Contributed byMaulik P. Purohit MD MPHFeb 25, 2018

What is Window Cleaner Poisoning?

  • Window cleaners constitute various homemade or synthetic chemical solvents that are used to clean glass and hard surfaced windows and curtain wall panels. Cleaning fluids used for commercial buildings are generally more concentrated than those used for domestic (home window) cleaning purposes
  • Homemade window cleaners are typically made from vinegar, soap, and water. Synthetic window cleaners, on the other hand, may contain strong chemicals, alcohol, colorants and perfumes
  • Window Cleaner Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of window cleaning solutions. Some of the branded products include Glass Gleam, Sparkle Glass Cleaner, Squeegee Off, and Windex among others
  • 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)

Window Cleaner Poisoning may be also referred to as Window Cleaner Toxicity.

What are the Causes of Window Cleaner Poisoning?

  • Window Cleaner Poisoning is caused by the ingestion/swallowing of window cleaner chemicals
  • Exposure of skin and eyes may result in injuries; inhalation of the cleaner fluid vapors may also result in symptoms
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • There are several types of window cleaner solutions. These may contain chemicals including trisodium phosphate, methanol and ethanol (antifreeze compounds), isopropanol, ammonia, glycol ether, phthalates, certain dyes, and other compounds
  • Some of the chemicals contained in the product are highly-toxic in nature and may cause severe symptoms

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 Window Cleaner Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Window Cleaner Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body may be affected. The poisoning may occur due to swallowing of the compound, or breathing-in of window cleaner fumes and vapors.

The signs and symptoms of Window Cleaner Poisoning may include:

  • Blood in vomit and/or stool
  • Severe burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe (even the stomach may be burnt)
  • This may also affect the eyes, nose, and ears
  • Speaking and swallowing difficulties due to swelling of tongue and throat
  • Severe skin irritation and burns (perforations on the skin may be observed)
  • Severe stomach pain
  • Breathing difficulties (due to inhalation of the fumes or vapors)
  • Unable to walk properly, lack of coordination
  • Low response level
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Sleepiness, feeling drowsy
  • Vision abnormalities including vision loss; partial or total blindness is a possibility
  • Collapse and coma

Note: Symptoms are observed only after a few hours, in many cases. Initial presentations may include vomiting, stomach pain, and an upset stomach. This is followed by confused behavior, sleepiness, and drowsiness.

How is First Aid administered for Window Cleaner Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Window Cleaner 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
  • Otherwise, following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give milk or 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
  • If eye exposure has occurred, then wash the eye thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for about 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:

  • Monitoring of vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer suitable medication to counter the effects of the toxin
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Window Cleaner Poisoning?

First aid for Window Cleaner 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 Window Cleaner Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Window Cleaner 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
  • Severity of the poisoning, the toxic ingredient present in the window cleaner, and timely medical assistance are the key prognostic indicators
  • Swallowing methanol can be extremely hazardous to one’s health. A small quantity of the substance can result in blindness or death
  • In some cases of severe poisoning, the central nervous system may be permanently damaged, which can lead to mental disabilities, blindness, muscle rigidity, and involuntary (physical) movements

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 Window Cleaner Poisoning be Prevented?

Window Cleaner Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health or cosmetic products
  • DO NOT store portions of the liquid in smaller containers and leave them unattended
  • Diluted compounds may also be very toxic and immediate medical assistance must be sought in case of an ingestion
  • Keeping household products out of reach of children in child-proof containers
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations

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
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Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH picture
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Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Assistant Medical Director, Medical Editorial Board, DoveMed Team


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