Propyl alcohol is a clear liquid commonly used as a germ killer (antiseptic). This article discusses poisoning from accidentally or intentionally swallowing propyl alcohol. It is the second most commonly ingested alcohol after ethanol (drinking alcohol).
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
Propyl alcohol is found in any of the following:
- Hand sanitizers
- Rubbing alcohol
- Alcohol swabs
- Skin and hair products
- Nail polish remover
This list may not be all inclusive.
Symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Coma (lack of responsiveness)
- Decreased or absent reflexes
- Difficulty breathing
- Lethargy (tiredness)
- Low blood pressure (a sign of serious poisoning with increased risk of death)
- Low urine output
- Nausea and vomiting
- Slowed or labored breathing
- Slurred speech
- Stupor (decreased level of alertness and confusion)
- Uncoordinated movements
- Vomiting blood
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the product (ingredients and strengths if known)
- When it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This 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.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:
- Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and ventilator (breathing machine)
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- Computerized axial tomography (CT or advanced imaging) scan
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Fluids through the vein (intravenous or IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
Propyl alcohol poisoning is rarely deadly. Long term effects are possible, including kidney failure, which could require dialysis (kidney machine). Dialysis may also be needed in serious cases of acute poisoning.
N-propyl alcohol; 1-propanol
Ghannoum M, Roberts DM, Bouchard J. Enhanced elimination of poisons. In: Yu ASL, Chertow GM, Luyckx VA, Marsden PA, Skorecki K, Taal MW, eds. Brenner and Rector's The Kidney. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 67.
Nelson ME. Toxic alcohols. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 141.
Review Date 1/1/2021
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.