Bleach is a household item that is a staple in most homes. It is used frequently to clean and disinfect, and for a multitude of other purposes. However, bleach contains toxic chemicals, and if ingested or inhaled it can cause irritation and even severe poisoning.
Chemicals in Bleach
Bleach is mostly made of water. However, it also contains a substance called sodium hypochlorite. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), liquid bleach in the bottle is a 5.25 per cent sodium hypochlorite solution, although industrial strength products may contain more of the chemical. When this chemical is ingested or inhaled, poisoning can occur.
Sodium Hypochlorite Effects
Ingestion of sodium hypochlorite usually causes mild stomach irritation and vomiting. Swallowing larger amounts can cause serious poisoning and even death. Also, sodium hypochlorite solution causes moderate mucosal irritation, the extent of which depends very much on the amount, the viscosity, the concentration and the duration of contact. If sodium hypochlorite is mixed with ammonia, poisonous fumes result. The inhalation of these fumes can cause esophageal damage and can be deadly.
Symptoms of poisoning to the airways and lungs include coughing, wheezing and vomiting. In addition, burning of the eyes, ears, nose and throat can occur. The heart and blood vessels may be damaged if chest pain, low blood pressure, slow heartbeat and shock take place. Delirium and even coma are extreme symptoms of bleach inhalation or ingestion poisoning.
First Aid for Ingestion
Ingestion of less than 5ml of sodium hypochlorite usually will not cause severe damage. However, ingestion of large amounts or ingestion for prolonged periods can cause severe effects. If the amount ingested is small, emesis, or vomiting is not recommended because of re-exposure of the oesophagus to the substance. Emesis should only be considered when large amounts of sodium hypochlorite have been ingested. In such cases, vomiting should be induced by a doctor. The best thing to do if bleach is ingested is to flush it out of the system using fluids. Milk is especially effective in minimising poisoning. It is very important that you call Poison Control or see a doctor if ingestion does occur.
First Aid for Inhalation
Immediately move the person who has inhaled sodium hypochlorite into fresh air or a well-ventilated area. Seek help from an emergency room or Poison Control right away.
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline will allow you to speak to and consult with experts who can help you with treatment.