Chlorine is a chemical that inhibits bacterial growth in water. It’s used to disinfect swimming pools and drinking water and sanitize sewage and industrial waste. It’s also an active ingredient in several cleaning products.
Chlorine poisoning can occur when you touch, swallow, or inhale chlorine. Chlorine reacts with water outside of the body and on mucosal surfaces inside your body — including the water in your digestive tract — causing hydrochloric acid and hypochlorous acid to form. Both of these substances can be extremely poisonous to humans.
You may be most familiar with chlorine that’s used in pools. However, most incidents of chlorine poisoning result from ingesting household cleaners, not pool water. Learn about other hidden dangers in your home.
A few common household products and substances containing chlorine include:
- chlorine tablets used in swimming pools
- swimming pool water
- 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 Capital Poison Center (NCPC) at 800-222-1222.
Chlorine poisoning can cause symptoms throughout your body. Respiratory symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing, and fluid inside the lungs.
Digestive system symptoms include:
- burning in the mouth
- swelling of the throat
- throat pain
- stomach pain
- blood in the stools
Chlorine exposure can damage your circulatory system. Symptoms of this problem can include:
- changes in the pH balance of your blood
- low blood pressure
- serious injury to the eyes, including blurry vision, burning, irritation, and in extreme cases vision loss
- skin damage, resulting from tissue injury with burns and irritation
Chlorine poisoning has been known to occur in individuals over the years, so diagnosing it usually isn’t difficult. In some cases, children may consume cleaning products that contain chlorine. This may be more difficult to diagnose since children sometimes can’t tell you what they’re feeling. Take children who show signs of chlorine poisoning to a hospital or emergency room immediately.
Seek medical assistance immediately if you or your child comes into contact with chlorine. Don’t try to induce vomiting unless instructed by poison control or a medical professional.
If you get chlorine on your skin, immediately wash it with soap and water. If you get it in your eyes, flush them with running water for at least 15 minutes — take out contact lenses first if present. Remove any clothes that were on the areas of the body exposed to chlorine.
If you accidentally swallow chlorine, 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 to seek fresh air is helpful because chlorine is heavier than air.
Medical professionals will want to know the following information to treat your chlorine poisoning more effectively:
- clinical condition
- product consumed
- amount consumed
- length of exposure
Once you’ve been admitted to the emergency room, a healthcare provider will measure and monitor your vital signs. This includes your pulse, temperature, blood pressure, oxygenation, and breathing rate. Doctors may also give you one or more of the following to help ease symptoms and help your body deal with the chlorine:
- activated charcoal
- supportive medications
- intravenous fluid
- supplemental oxygen
You might require placement of a breathing tube into your airway for mechanical ventilation if you have trouble breathing. Doctors might use a special tool to view your throat and determine if you have serious burns in your airways or lungs. A nasogastric tube may need to be inserted into your stomach to empty its contents.
Medical staff may need to wash affected skin at hourly intervals. Surgical removal of affected skin may be necessary if it’s severely damaged.
Chlorine poisoning can have serious effects on the body. The outlook for recovery depends on the amount of chlorine touched, swallowed, or inhaled and how quickly treatment is obtained. You have a better chance for full recovery if you receive medical help promptly.
Follow proper methods for handling chlorine. Store products that contain chlorine in locked closets or cabinets so that children can’t access them.
The NCPC can provide additional information and recommendations about chlorine poisoning. Call 800-222-1222 at any time to reach NCPC. The service is private and free. The professionals at NCPC are happy to answer questions on chlorine poisoning and poison prevention.