Isopropyl alcohol, also referred to as isopropanol, is a chemical commonly found in rubbing alcohol, hand sanitizers, and certain cleaning products. You might hear it abbreviated as both IPA or ISO. ISO poisoning occurs when your liver can no longer manage the amount of ISO in your body.

Symptoms of ISO poisoning can appear immediately but may take a few hours to become noticeable. ISO poisoning usually causes:

In severe cases, it can lead to a coma.

Act now

ISO poisoning requires immediate medical attention. Call 911 or go to an emergency room right away if you suspect that you or someone you know has ISO poisoning. If you’re unsure of what to do, you can also call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at 800-222-1222 or visit their website.

When calling for help, provide as much detail as possible about:

  • the affected person’s age, height, and weight
  • the route of exposure
  • how much ISO was involved
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ISO can be toxic when ingested orally, inhaled, or applied topically, particularly in large amounts. But keep in mind that ISO can be harmful to children in smaller amounts.

To put things into perspective, ISO is more toxic than ethanol (the kind of alcohol you can drink) but less toxic than many other toxic alcohols, including ethylene glycol and methanol.

The symptoms of ISO poisoning vary by the type and extent of poisoning. Sometimes, the symptoms may not appear for several hours.

The symptoms of ISO poisoning include:

Your body can handle small amounts of ISO. In fact, your kidneys remove approximately 20 to 50 percent of ISO from your body. The rest is broken down into acetone by enzymes known as alcohol dehydrogenases. This acetone is filtered out of your body through your lungs or kidneys.

But when you ingest more ISO than your body can manage (which occurs around 200 milliliters for an adult), poisoning can occur.

Some people might intentionally ingest ISO to experience its intoxicating effects or harm themselves. But most cases of ISO poisoning are accidental and occur in children under the age of 6. The latter is partly due to children’s tendency to put things in their mouths.

ISO is a main ingredient in many household cleaning supplies that young children might stumble across, so it’s best to ensure these products are kept out of reach.

Get help now

If you think someone is at immediate risk of self-harm or hurting another person:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency number.
  • Stay with the person until help arrives.
  • Remove any guns, knives, medications, or other things that may cause harm.
  • Listen, but don’t judge, argue, threaten, or yell.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, get help from a crisis or suicide prevention hotline by:

Find more suicide prevention resources and helpline numbers here.

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Your doctor will perform a physical exam so they can check your vital signs and look for signs of ISO exposure, like skin damage.

During the exam, your doctor may ask you the following questions:

  • How did the poisoning occur? Did you drink the product or did you spill it on yourself?
  • What was the source? What specific product did you ingest?
  • What was the intent? Was it taken on purpose?
  • What medications are you taking? Was there ethyl alcohol in the product?

Your doctor may also order the following blood tests to help make a diagnosis:

  • a complete blood count (CBC) to look for signs of infection or damage to your blood cells
  • a serum electrolyte level to see if you’re dehydrated
  • a toxicity panel to determine the concentration of ISO in your blood

In some cases, your doctor may run an electrocardiogram (EKG) to assess your heart function.

The goal of treatment is to remove the alcohol from your body and keep your organs working properly. Treatment for ISO poisoning can include:

  • dialysis, which removes ISO and acetone from the blood
  • fluid replacement, which may be used if you’re dehydrated
  • oxygen therapy, which allows your lungs to get rid of ISO more quickly

To prevent poisoning, avoid swallowing, inhaling, or prolonged skin contact with any products containing ISO. Among other things, these include:

  • most household cleaning products
  • paint thinners
  • rubbing alcohol
  • perfumes

Keep these items out of the reach of children and pets.

You should never induce vomiting because this can further damage your esophagus. But there are steps you should take when you or someone you know has ISO poisoning:

  • Drink plenty of water to help your body flush out the toxin. But don’t do this if you have symptoms that make it difficult to swallow, like throat pain or decreased alertness.
  • If the chemical is on your skin or eyes, rinse the area with water for 15 minutes.
  • Call 911 or go to an emergency room immediately.

ISO poisoning can cause a range of symptoms that range from mild to severe. Call your local emergency number right away if you or someone else thinks they might be experiencing ISO poisoning. While ISO poisoning is rarely fatal, it’s important to get professional treatment to avoid potential complications.