Accidental Poisoning by Soap Products

Written by Elly Dock | Published on July 25, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

Overview

Accidental poisoning by soap products can occur as a result of contact with household cleaning products that contain strong chemicals, such as simple soap and benzalkonium chloride. When these products are swallowed or inhaled they can be highly toxic, and even life-threatening.

If you believe that someone you know has been exposed to harmful chemicals and may have been poisoned, call 911 or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 as soon as possible.

What Causes Accidental Soap Poisoning?

People can be poisoned by soap or household cleaning products when they are exposed to them for a prolonged period. Often, people do not realize the strength of the products they are using. They may not open the windows for ventilation because they do not realize they are inhaling chemical fumes while cleaning.

Children may accidentally poison themselves if they are left unsupervised and ingest or inhale the soap products.

Risk Factors: Adults vs. Children

Adults may experience accidental poisoning while cleaning at home or work. Poisoning can occur if you do not follow the instructions for proper product use during cleaning.

However, children tend to be at a higher risk for accidental poisoning from soap or cleaning products because they are more likely to drink or eat these products without realizing that they are toxic.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Accidental Soap Poisoning

The symptoms of soap poisoning will depend on how the affected person was poisoned and how much contact they had with the soap products. If the soap or detergent has come into contact with your skin, you may have irritation, small holes, or even burns on top layer of skin. If you have 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 soap has come into contact with your eyes or throat, other complications can arise. If soap gets in your eyes, you may have loss of vision or difficulty focusing because the chemicals may be burning your eyes. If you swallowed the soap, there may be pain or swelling in your throat and on your lips and tongue.

If you have been poisoned, 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 (pH) level of your blood has changed, which can damage your vital organs. This does not always occur with household soap products, but may happen with poisoning from commercial cleaning products.

Effects on your gastrointestinal tract should also be monitored. If you have been poisoned, 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.

Treatment for Poisoning in an Emergency Situation

Treatment for soap poisoning will vary depending on how you have been exposed to the chemical products. In most cases, a doctor will begin by checking your vital signs, including your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. If you know how much or what kind of exposure you have had to soap products, you should tell the medical team right away. Treatment for soap poisoning may include:

  • oxygen
  • pain medication
  • a breathing tube
  • IV fluids
  • removal of any burned skin
  • skin irrigation (washing the skin repeatedly)
  • a bronchoscopy (a camera put down your throat to check for burns in the lungs and airways)
  • an endoscopy (a camera put down your throat to check for burns in the esophagus and stomach)

Poisoning can be life-threatening; you must seek treatment immediately to help prevent severe complications, including brain damage and tissue death.

Is It Possible to Recover From Soap Poisoning?

The outlook for someone who has been poisoned by soap products depends on how much of the chemical they were exposed to and how quickly they were able to get treatment. The sooner an affected person can get help, the greater their 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 have swallowed soap, recovery will depend on the amount of internal damage the chemical has caused. Damage to your stomach and esophagus may continue for weeks after you ingested the chemicals.

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