Chlorine is a chemical that is used to prevent bacteria from growing in water, as well as for sanitation for sewage and industrial waste. It is also an ingredient in several household cleaning products.
Chlorine poisoning can occur when you swallow or inhale chlorine. It reacts with water inside and outside of the body (such as the water in your digestive tract) to form hydrochloric acid and hydrochlorous acid. Both of these substances are extremely poisonous.
Although you may be most familiar with the chlorine that is used in pools, most incidents of chlorine poisoning are due to ingesting household cleaners, not pool water. The following are a few common household products and substances containing chlorine:
- swimming pool water and the chlorine tablets used in swimming pools
- mild household cleaners
- bleach products
The information in this article is not intended to treat poison exposure. If exposure occurs, call 911 or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Chlorine poisoning can cause symptoms throughout your body. Respiratory symptoms include difficulty breathing and fluid in the lungs. Digestive system symptoms include burning in the mouth, swelling of the throat, throat pain, stomach pain, vomiting, and blood in the stool.
Your circulatory system can be damaged by chlorine exposure. Symptoms of this problem can include changes in the acid levels of your blood. Chlorine exposure can also cause low blood pressure.
Additionally, chlorine can cause serious damage to the eyes, including burning and irritation. In the worst case, temporary vision loss can occur. Chlorine exposure can also damage your skin, potentially resulting in tissue damage, burns, and irritation.
Because chlorine poisoning is common, diagnosing it is usually not difficult. In some cases, children may consume cleaning products that contain chlorine; this however may be more difficult to diagnose since children sometimes can’t tell you what they’re feeling. Children showing signs of chlorine poisoning should be taken to a hospital or ER immediately.
You must seek medical assistance immediately if you (or your child) are exposed to chlorine. Do not try to induce vomiting unless instructed by poison control or a medical professional.
If chlorine is present on your skin or in your eyes, flush the area with running water for at least 15 minutes.
If chlorine is accidentally swallowed, drink milk or water immediately, unless you experience vomiting or convulsions.
If you inhale chlorine, seek fresh air as soon as possible. Going to the highest possible ground is helpful because chlorine is heavier than air.
Medical professionals will want to know the following information in order to treat you more effectively if you are suffering from chlorine poisoning:
- product consumed
- amount consumed
- length of exposure
Once you’ve been admitted to the ER, a healthcare provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including pulse, temperature, blood pressure, and breathing rate. Doctors may also give you activated charcoal, medications, intravenous fluids, or oxygen in order to help ease symptoms and rid your body of the chlorine.
You might require a breathing tube if you are having trouble breathing. Doctors might use a special tool to view your throat and determine if you have serious burns in your airways or lungs. Additionally, a tube may need to be inserted into your stomach to empty all the contents.
If your skin has been affected, medical staff may need to wash your skin for several hours. Surgical removal of affected skin may be necessary if your skin is severely damaged.
Chlorine poisoning can have serious effects on the body. The outlook for recovery depends on the amount of chlorine swallowed or inhaled and how quickly treatment is obtained. If medical help is received promptly, there is a better chance for recovery.
Chlorine poisoning can be prevented by following proper methods for handling chlorine and avoiding ingestion entirely. Products that contain chlorine should be stored in locked closets or cabinets so that children cannot access them.
The National Poison Control Center can provide additional information and recommendations about chlorine poisoning. It can be reached any time at 1-800-222-1222, and the service is private and free. The professionals at the National Poison Control Center are happy to answer questions on chlorine poisoning and poison prevention.