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Carbolic acid poisoning

Carbolic acid is a sweet-smelling clear liquid. It is added to many different products. Carbolic acid poisoning occurs when someone touches or swallows this chemical.

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

Phenol is the harmful substance in carbolic acid.

Where Found

Carbolic acid can be found in:

  • Adhesive dyes
  • Lubricating oils
  • Perfumes
  • Textiles
  • Various antiseptics
  • Various disinfectants
  • Various germicides

Other products may also contain carbolic acid.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of carbolic acid poisoning in different parts of the body.

BLADDER AND KIDNEYS

  • Blue- or green-colored urine
  • Decreased urine output
  • No urine output

EYES, EARS, NOSE, MOUTH, AND THROAT

  • Severe burns in the mouth and food pipe (esophagus)
  • Yellow eyes

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Abdominal pain - severe
  • Bloody stools
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting - possibly bloody

HEART AND BLOOD

  • Low blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate

LUNGS AND AIRWAYS

  • Deep, rapid breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Trouble breathing (may be lifethreatening if inhaled)

NERVOUS SYSTEM

SKIN

WHOLE BODY

  • Excessive thirst
  • Heavy sweating

Home Care

Get medical help right away. Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

If the person swallowed the carbolic acid, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to.

Do NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness.

If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (and 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 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

Take the container to the hospital with you, 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.

The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Laxative
  • Medicines to relieve pain
  • Skin creams to treat burns

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well someone does depends on how much carbolic acid they swallowed and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.

Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month later.

Alternative Names

Phenol poisoning; Phenylic acid poisoning; Hydroxybenzene poisoning; Phenic acid poisoning; Benzenol poisoning

References

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). Toxicological profile for Phenol. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. www.atsdr.cdc.gov/ToxProfiles/TP.asp?id=148&tid=27. Updated January 21, 2015. Accessed November 17, 2015.

Levine MD, Zane R. Chemical injuries. 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 64.

Wax PM, Young A. Caustics. 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 153.

Review Date 11/4/2015

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, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.