Photographic fixatives are chemicals used to develop photographs.
This article discusses poisoning from swallowing such chemicals.
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.
Poisonous ingredients include:
- Sodium thiosulfate
- Sodium sulfite
- Sodium bisulfite
- Potassium aluminum sulfate
- Boric acid
The fixing agent, sodium thiosulfate, along with the preservative, sodium bisulfite, can break down (decompose) to form sulfur dioxide gas, which can damage the lungs and provoke asthma attacks.
These chemicals are found in products used to develop photographs.
Poisoning symptoms may include:
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
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 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.
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:
- Activated charcoal, so that the poison that remains does not get absorbed into the stomach and digestive tract.
- Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration.
- Chest x-ray.
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing).
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and stomach.
- Fluids through a vein (by IV).
- Laxatives to move the poison quickly through the body.
- Medicines to treat symptoms.
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach (rare) to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage).
How well a person does depends on how much of the poison was swallowed and how quickly the person received medical help. Swallowing these products can cause severe effects in many parts of the body. The faster treatment is received, the greater the chance of recovery.
Photographic developer poisoning; Hydroquinone poisoning; Quinone poisoning; Sulfite poisoning
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
Meehan TJ. Approach to the poisoned patient. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 139.
Review Date 10/12/2020
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.