Photographic fixative poisoning
Photographic fixatives are chemicals used to develop photographs.
This article discusses poisoning from swallowing such chemicals.
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.
Photographic developer poisoning; Hydroquinone poisoning; Quinone poisoning; Sulfite poisoning
Poisonous ingredients include:
- Sodium thiosulfate
- Sodium sulfite/bisulfite
- Boric acid
Photographic fixative can also break down (decompose) to form sulfur dioxide gas.
These chemicals are found in products used to develop photographs.
Poisoning symptoms may include:
- Abdominal pain
- Burning pain in the throat
- Blurred vision
- Burning in the eye
- Diarrhea (watery, bloody, green-blue colored)
- Low blood pressure
- Skin rash
- Stupor (confusion, decreased level of consciousness)
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
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
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal, so that the poison that remains does not get absorbed into the stomach and digestive tract.
- Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration.
- Chest x-ray.
- ECG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing).
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and stomach.
- Fluids through a vein (by IV).
- Laxatives to move the poison quickly through the body.
- Medicines to treat symptoms.
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach (rare) to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage).
How well a person does depends on how much of the poison was swallowed and how quickly the person received medical help. Swallowing these products can cause severe effects in many parts of the body. The faster treatment is received, the greater the chance of recovery.
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
Meehan TJ. Approach to the poisoned patient. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 139.
Reviewed 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, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.