Sodium hydroxide is a very strong chemical. It is also known as lye and caustic soda. This article discusses poisoning from touching, breathing in (inhaling), or swallowing sodium hydroxide.
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.
Sodium hydroxide is found in many industrial solvents and cleaners, including products to strip floors, brick cleaners, cements, and many others.
It may also be found in certain household products, including:
Other products also contain sodium hydroxide.
Below are symptoms of sodium hydroxide poisoning or exposure in different parts of the body.
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
ESOPHAGUS, INTESTINES, AND STOMACH
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
HEART AND BLOOD
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make a person throw up unless the 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, give the person water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you something different. Also, DO NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms that make it hard to swallow (such as vomiting, convulsions, or decreased alertness).
If the person breathed in the poison, move them to fresh air right away.
Have this information ready:
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 hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. 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 that contains the sodium hydroxide with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.
Treatment depends on how the poisoning occurred. Pain medicine will be given. Other treatments may also be given.
For swallowed poison, the person may receive:
For inhaled poison, the person may receive:
For skin exposure, the person may receive:
For eye exposure, the person may receive:
How well a person does depends on how fast the poison is diluted and neutralized. Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, eyes, lungs, esophagus, nose, and stomach are possible.
The long-term outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Damage to the esophagus and stomach continues to occur for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month later.
Keep all poisons in their original or childproof container, with labels visible, and out of the reach of children.
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.