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Quick Facts

Caustic Substance Poisoning


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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Caustic substances are chemicals that cause burns.

What is caustic substance poisoning?

Caustic substance poisoning happens when you swallow a chemical that burns you. The burn can be to your lips, mouth, throat, stomach, or esophagus. Your esophagus is the tube that connects your throat to your stomach.

This type of burn may scar or create holes (perforations). This can lead to severe, life-threatening infections.

  • Drain cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, and some dishwasher detergents contain caustic substances

  • Young children may swallow caustic substances accidentally

  • Caustic substances can be liquid or solid

If you or someone else may have swallowed a caustic substance, call for emergency medical assistance (911 in most areas of the United States).

What are the symptoms of caustic substance poisoning?

Symptoms include:

  • Severe mouth and throat pain right away, especially when you swallow

  • Drooling

  • Coughing

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Throwing up (or throwing up blood)

  • Trouble breathing

If the caustic substance is strong or burns a hole in your esophagus or stomach, you may also feel:

  • Severe pain in your chest

  • Fast heartbeat

  • Fast breathing

  • Trouble breathing

  • Chest pain

  • Severe stomach pain

  • Shock (dangerously low blood pressure)

Severe poisoning can kill you.

If your esophagus becomes damaged, you're more likely to someday develop cancer of the esophagus.

How can doctors tell if I have caustic substance poisoning?

Doctors will check your mouth for chemical burns. They may also look down your throat with an endoscope (a flexible viewing tube).

How do doctors treat caustic substance poisoning?

If you have mild burns, doctors will:

  • Tell you to drink milk or water

  • Give you IV fluids (into your vein)

  • Give you medicine to stop infection

If you have severe burns, doctors will:

  • Do surgery to take out damaged tissue

  • Repair any holes in your esophagus or stomach

  • Give you medicine to stop infection

  • Do surgery to widen or rebuild your esophagus, if needed

Don't try to throw up a caustic substance. Throwing it up causes as much damage as swallowing it.

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