Accidental poisoning by soap products can occur as a result of contact with household cleaning products that contain strong chemicals, including soap used to clean your body or household. When you swallow or inhale these highly toxic products, you can experience life-threatening symptoms.
If you believe that someone you know is experiencing soap poisoning, you should immediately call 911 or the National Poison Control Center (NPCC) at 800-222-1222.
The signs and symptoms of soap poisoning depend on:
- the product you came into contact with
- how you ingested the product
- how much contact you had with the product
The signs and symptoms of soap poisoning can include the following:
- If soap gets in your eyes, you might lose vision or have difficulty focusing because the chemicals may be burning your eyes.
- If the soap or detergent came into contact with your skin, you may have irritation, small holes, or even burns on the top layer of your skin.
- If you inhaled fumes from soap products, you may have difficulty breathing or have swelling in your throat. This is very serious because difficulty breathing or swallowing can be life-threatening.
If you swallowed the soap, there may be pain or swelling in your throat and on your lips and tongue. You may also experience symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. You may begin to vomit repeatedly, and you may vomit blood. You may also experience abdominal pain or have blood in your stool. Depending on the product that you ingested, you may also have burns in your esophagus.
Other signs of soap poisoning
If you have soap poisoning, you may have low blood pressure or your heart rate may drop rapidly. In serious situations, your heart could collapse from contact with the chemicals.
Blood tests may reveal that the acid, or pH, level of your blood changed, which can damage your vital organs. This doesn’t always occur with household soap products, but may happen with poisoning from commercial cleaning products.
Prolonged exposure to soap or household cleaning products can lead to poisoning. People often don’t realize the strength of the products they’re using. They may not open the windows for ventilation because they don’t realize how harmful it is to inhale chemical fumes while cleaning.
Children are at an increased risk of soap poisoning. They may accidentally poison themselves if they’re left unsupervised and ingest or inhale soap products.
If you or your child has swallowed soap, call the NPCC immediately at 800-222-1222. This is a free and confidential line to poison experts who can give you immediate instructions. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
The poison control specialist will tell you what to do next depending on you or your child’s symptoms. They may tell you to call 911 or go to an emergency room right away. Never try to make your child or anyone whom you think may have been poisoned vomit unless a medical professional asks you to do so.
It’s helpful to provide the poison control specialist or medical professional with the type and quantity of soap that caused the poisoning. Bring the container of soap with you to the emergency room if you can.
Treatment for soap poisoning will vary depending on how you’ve been exposed to the chemical products. In most cases, a doctor will begin by checking your vital signs, including your:
- blood pressure
You should tell the medical team right away if you know how much or what kind of exposure you’ve had to soap products.
The treatment for soap poisoning may include:
- pain medication
- a breathing tube
- intravenous fluids
- removal of any burned skin
- skin irrigation, or washing the skin repeatedly
- a bronchoscopy, which involves putting a camera down your throat to check for burns in the lungs and airways
- an endoscopy, which involves putting a a camera put down your throat to check for burns in the esophagus and stomach
Poisoning can be life-threatening. You must get treatment immediately to help prevent severe complications, including brain damage and tissue death.
The outlook depends on how much of the chemical you were exposed to and how quickly you’re able to get treatment. The sooner you can get help, the greater your chances of recovery.
If chemicals have come in contact with your skin, it may be easier to recover because the damage is mostly superficial. However, if you swallowed soap, recovery will depend on the amount of internal damage the chemical caused. Damage to your stomach and esophagus may continue for weeks after you ingested the chemicals.
Be mindful of the chemicals you’re using to clean your home. Make sure you aren’t accidentally ingesting or inhaling them. Open the windows when you’re cleaning, and make sure to take breaks to avoid being in contact with the soap product for too long.
You should also keep soap, detergents, and other household cleaners safely locked away and out of children’s reach. Parents of young children should be especially aware of single-load liquid detergent pods for your dishwasher or laundry. These can be tempting for toddlers, and they’re also particularly dangerous. In the first two months of 2016 alone, there were 1,903 cases of exposure to these extra-concentrated packets of laundry detergent by children age 5 and younger, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Consumer Reports recommends that families with young children avoid using liquid detergent pods altogether.
You can also try using baby locks on your cabinets and drawers. There are several options available that work depending on the type of cabinet you want to secure. Magnetic locks can be mounted inside your cabinets and drawers. Adhesive latches are a cheap and less permanent way to secure cupboards, appliances, and even the toilet.
Make sure you put any soap and household cleaners away again after using them. Don’t leave them out on a counter where they’re within your child’s reach. When the bottle or package is empty and you’re ready to discard it, be sure to rinse it thoroughly and throw it away safely.
The NPCC can provide more information about soap poisoning. You can call them from anywhere in the United States at 800-222-1222. This service is free, confidential, and available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Soaps can be highly toxic. Call the NPCC or 911 right away for medical treatment if you believe that you or someone you know has soap poisoning.
You asked, we answered
- What should I do if I think my child has been poisoned, but I’m not sure what caused it?
If you suspect poisoning, it’s important to call the NPCC immediately. Notify them of all possible substances that your child could have ingested. The specialist will also want to know your child’s age and weight along with possible amount of ingestion. If your child is lethargic, not responding, vomiting, or has a seizure, call 911 immediately or go to the nearest emergency room.- Debra Sullivan PhD, MSN, CNE, COI