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Paraffin poisoning

Paraffin is a solid waxy substance used to make candles and other items. This article discusses what may occur if you swallow or eat paraffin.

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 your local emergency number (such as 911), or your 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.

Poisonous Ingredient

Paraffin is the poisonous ingredient.

Where Found

Paraffin can be found in some:

  • Arthritis bath/spa treatments
  • Candles
  • Waxes

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Eating a lot of paraffin can lead to intestinal obstruction, which can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and possible constipation.

If the paraffin contains a dye, a person who has an allergy to that dye may develop tongue and throat swelling, wheezing, and trouble breathing.

Home Care

DO NOT make the person throw up. Contact poison control for help.

If the person has an allergic reaction, call 911 or your local emergency number.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your 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. 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.

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

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. Blood and urine tests will be done. The person may receive:

  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
  • Mild laxatives to help move the paraffin through the intestine and be removed from the body

If an allergic reaction occurs, the person may need:

  • Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration. A breathing machine (ventilator) would then be needed.
  • Chest x-ray.
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Paraffin is usually nontoxic (not harmful) if swallowed in small amounts. Recovery is likely. The person will likely be asked to drink large amounts of fluids to help move the paraffin through the bowel. The exact amount will depend on the person’s age and size as well as other medical conditions which may be present. This step will help reduce the risk of complications.

Alternative Names

Wax poisoning - paraffin

References

Gummin DD. Hydrocarbons. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 152.

Kulig K. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 147.

Review Date 10/2/2016

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.