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Calcium hydroxide poisoning

Calcium hydroxide is a white powder produced by mixing calcium oxide ("lime") with water. Calcium hydroxide poisoning occurs when someone swallows this substance.

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

Calcium hydroxide

Where Found

These products contain calcium hydroxide:

  • Cement
  • Limewater
  • Many industrial solvents and cleaners (hundreds to thousands of construction products, flooring strippers, brick cleaners, cement thickening products, and many others)
  • Many hair relaxers and straighteners
  • Slaked lime

This list may not include all sources of calcium hydroxide.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of calcium hydroxide poisoning in different parts of the body.

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

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

HEART AND BLOOD

  • Collapse
  • Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
  • Too much or too little acid in the blood (leads to organ damage)

LUNGS AND AIRWAYS

  • Breathing difficulty (from breathing in substance)
  • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)

SKIN

  • Burns
  • Holes in the skin or tissues underneath
  • Irritation

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 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 them to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

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

The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy. Camera placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
  • Surgery to remove burned skin
  • 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 the person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster they get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Swallowing this poison can have severe effects on many parts of the body. If a chemical burn occurred in the eye, permanent blindness can result.

Damage continues to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the poison was swallowed.

Alternative Names

Hydrate - calcium; Lime milk; Slaked lime

References

Wax PM, Yarema M. Corrosives. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 98.

Wax PM, Young A. Caustics. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls, RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 153.

Update 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.