Drainpipe cleaners are chemicals used to clean drainpipes. Drainpipe cleaner poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in (inhales) a drainpipe cleaner.
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.
Poisoning ingredients include:
- Hydrochloric acid
- Lye (sodium hydroxide or caustic soda)
- Potassium hydroxide
- Sulfuric acid
Ingredients can be found in:
- Some aquarium products
- Some drain cleaners
Note: This list may not include all sources of drainpipe cleaners.
Drainpipe cleaner poisoning can cause symptoms in many parts of the body:
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
- Breathing difficulty (from breathing in drainpipe cleaner)
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Severe change in acid level of blood (pH balance), which leads to damage in all of the body organs
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
- Blood in the stool
- Burns and possible holes (perforation) in the throat (esophagus)
- Severe abdominal pain
- Vomiting blood
HEART AND CIRCULATORY SYSTEM
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
- Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care provider.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a provider. DO NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Get the following information:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (and ingredients and strength, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- 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 provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator)
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids by IV
- Pain medication
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster the person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The outcome depends on the extent of this damage.
Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed.
Blanc PD. Acute responses to toxic exposures. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 75.
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.
Review Date 10/16/2017
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.