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.
Phenol poisoning; Phenylic acid poisoning; Hydroxybenzene poisoning; Phenic acid poisoning; Benzenol poisoning
Phenol is the harmful substance in carbolic acid.
Carbolic acid can be found in:
- Adhesive dyes
- Lubricating oils
- Various antiseptics
- Various disinfectants
- Various germicides
Other products may also contain carbolic acid.
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
- Nausea and vomiting - possibly bloody
- Stomach pain
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure
- Rapid heart rate
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
- Deep, rapid breathing
- Trouble breathing (may be lifethreatening if inhaled)
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Lack of alertness (stupor)
- Blue lips and fingernails
- Yellow skin
- Excessive thirst
- Heavy sweating
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
Your local poison control 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 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.
Tests that may be done include:
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicines to relieve pain
- Skin creams to treat burns
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
How well someone does depends on how much carbolic acid was swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. 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.
Aronson JK. Phenols. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:688-692.
Levine MD. Chemical injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 57.
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.