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Paint, lacquer, and varnish remover poisoning

This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing or breathing in (sniffing) products to remove paint, lacquer, or varnish.

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

Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers may contain the following poisonous ingredients:

  • Benzyl alcohol
  • Ethanol
  • Formic acid
  • Methyl alcohol
  • Methylene hydrochloride
  • Naphtha
  • Xylene

Where Found

Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers are sold under various brand names.

Symptoms

Paint lacquer and varnish remover poisoning can cause symptoms in various parts of the body.

AIRWAYS AND LUNGS

  • Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
  • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Blood in the lungs
  • Stopped breathing

EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT

  • Severe pain in the throat
  • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
  • Vision loss

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Abdominal pain -- severe
  • Bloody stools
  • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
  • Vomiting, possibly with blood

KIDNEY

  • Kidney failure

HEART AND BLOOD

  • Collapse
  • Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
  • Severe change in the level of acid in the blood (pH balance) -- leads to the failure of many organs

SKIN

  • Burns
  • Irritation
  • Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues

NERVOUS SYSTEM

  • Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness (from sniffing)
  • Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
  • Incoordination
  • Unsteadiness
  • Convulsions

Home Care

Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider.

If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a provider.

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 product (ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • 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.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

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

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 placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy. Camera placed down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach.
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage).
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation). Perhaps every few hours for several days.

Outlook (Prognosis)

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

Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage.

Alternative Names

Paint remover poisoning

References

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 158.

White SR. Toxic alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 155.

Update Date 11/4/2015