What is it to be poisoned with lye? TERRIBLE. It can mean anything from burnt skin, corroded lungs to death. Remember, for all its uses, lye is a poison that should not be inhaled, touched or ingested into the body. You may meet with terrible consequences if you happen to be victims of lye poisoning. This is why it is advised that you have to be careful and wear protective gear while handling lye. This article will explain the symptoms and treatments that follow a lye poisoning and what emergency care needs to be taken immediately after such a terrible accident.
How can you be poisoned with lye? You can be poisoned with lye in three ways – touch/physical contact, inhalation and ingestion. All three are dangerous and your body can be debilitated if you suffer a strong exposure to the chemical. Lye, as you know is caustic soda or sodium hydroxide. It is a strong alkaline that reacts strongly with acids. It can be found in many industrial solvents, cleaners (like drain cleaners), brick cleaners, cements, aquarium products, metal polishes, oven cleaners and a lot of others. If you are a soapmaking freak, you would be handling lye in pellets or flakes form. Lye water (lye mixed with water) is also caustic.
What are the symptoms of lye poisoning? Symptoms vary from person to person depending on the exposure. If you suspect an exposure, look for the following symptoms:
Touching/skin contact: Irritation, burning sensation and rashes.
Contact with eyes, nose, throat: These are sensitive areas in your body and contact with these parts can mean severe pain in the throat, pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips or tongue and even temporary vision loss.
Inhalation: Don’t ever think inhalation is easy to handle. It affects the most if you inhale too much of lye fumes. A person who has inhaled lye will suffer from breathing difficulty, lung inflammation, continuous sneezing, throat swelling etc. If the damage is severe, there maybe corrosion in your esophagus.
Ingestion: The worst that can happen to anyone. Ingestion can lead to symptoms like blood in the stool, burns in the esophagus, severe pain in the abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea, heart attack, low blood pressure, change in body pH and even unconsciousness or death.
Lye poisoning treatments: Treatments vary depending on the exposure. However, you can definitely try a few basic remedies:
For skin & eyes exposure: Splash cool water on the affected area continuously for 15 minutes. Never rub or touch the surface. Even if you wear contact lenses, don’t remove them immediately.
For ingestion: Give the affected person milk or water. Never induce vomiting unless advised by a health care provider. Never administer milk or water if the person has vomiting or other symptoms.
For inhalation: Immediately move the person to fresh air and seek medical help.
Emergency advice: Lye poisoning is an emergency case. Rush to the nearest Poison Control center or call the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. This is a free and confidential service that will offer you immediate medical help. Experts will be available 24 hours a day and you can take poison prevention advice from them. When you rush to the Emergency Room, you will be asked for the affected person’s age, weight, condition, name of the lye product, time of exposure, extent of exposure etc. The experts will act based on your information and ideally, you can expect the following emergency help:
For skin exposure: Irrigation (of skin using water) for every few hours for several days or skin debridement or removal of burnt skin through surgery.
For inhaled poison: The person will be kept on artificial breathing and will be taken for Bronchoscopy (in which there is camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs)
For ingestion exposure: Endoscopy is the first treatment. Because only endoscopy can determine the damage done to the esophagus and the stomach. Many soothing fluids may too be passed through your veins.
A person’s recovery depends on how fast the poison is diluted and eliminated from the body. Sometimes, it may take days and months to do this. Treatment is possible only based on the extent of damage done.