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Automatic dishwasher soap poisoning

Automatic dishwasher soap poisoning refers to illness that occurs when you swallow soap used in automatic dishwashers or when the soap contacts the face.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

Poisonous Ingredient

Automatic dishwasher products contain various soaps. Potassium carbonate and sodium carbonate are the most common.

Where Found

  • Automatic dishwasher soaps

Symptoms

  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • Severe pain in the throat
    • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
    • Loss of vision
    • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Heart and blood circulation
    • Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
    • Collapse
    • Severe change in blood acid levels, which can lead to organ damage
  • Lungs
  • Skin
    • Irritation
    • Burns
    • Necrosis (tissue death) in the skin or underlying tissues
  • Stomach and intestines
    • Severe abdominal pain
    • Vomiting, may be bloody
    • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
    • Blood in the stool

Home Care

Seek immediate emergency medical help. Do NOT make the person throw up.

If the soap is in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the soap was swallowed, have the patient immediately drink water or milk.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:

  • Blood transfusion if severe blood loss has occurred
  • Fluids through a vein (I.V.)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage )
  • Medicines to treat an allergic reaction (diphenhydramine, epinephrine, or prednisone)

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Damage can continue to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the product is swallowed. Death may occur up to a month after the poisoning.

However, most cases of swallowing dishwasher soap are relatively nontoxic. Over the counter household products are specifically made to be relatively safe to persons and the environment.

References

Harchelroad FP Jr, Rottinghaus DM. Chemical burns. In: Tintinalli JE, Kelen GD, Stapczynski JS, Ma OJ, Cline DM, eds. Emergency Medicine: A Comprehensive Study Guide. 6th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2004:chap 200.

Updated: 12/12/2013

Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group, Hunterdon Medical Centers, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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