Metal polish poisoning
Metal polishes are used to clean all metals, brass, copper, or silver. This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing metal polish.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
The poisonous ingredients found in metal polishes are ammonia and hydrocarbons, which are substances that contain only hydrogen and carbon.
Metal polishes are sold under various brand names. Examples include Brasso and Tarn-X.
Airways and lungs:
- Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
- Severe pain or burning in the throat, mouth area, nose, eyes, or ears
- Vision loss
Stomach and intestines:
- Abdominal pain -- severe
- Bloody stools
- Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
- Vomiting, possibly with blood
Heart and blood:
- Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
Brain and spine:
- Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- The patient's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called 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.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient may receive:
- Breathing tube
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- 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
How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach are possible. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Damage can continue to occur for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month after the poison was swallowed.
Prolonged exposure to lacquer fumes can cause serious, long-term problems.
Mirkin DB. Benzene and related aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 94.
Review Date: 2/28/2012
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.