What Are the Symptoms of Bleach Poisoning?

C. Daw
C. Daw
Bleach poisoning typically causes a burning sensation in the stomach.
Bleach poisoning typically causes a burning sensation in the stomach.

There are two main classes of bleach poisoning symptoms: those related to inhalation and those related to ingestion. People who have inhaled excessive amounts of the substance, which is known chemically as sodium hypochlorite, often experience respiratory problems, skin rashes, and problems with watery eyes or blurred vision. Someone who has swallowed it, on the other hand, is likely to become violently sick, lose the ability to speak or think clearly, and feel a burning sensation in the throat and stomach. Both forms of bleach poisoning are very serious and could be life threatening. People who think that they or others may be suffering from this condition should seek prompt medical attention.

Respiratory Problems

Coughing and wheezing is a common symptom of bleach inhalation.
Coughing and wheezing is a common symptom of bleach inhalation.

One of the most common symptoms of bleach inhalation is breathing difficulty, including coughing and wheezing. People may also experience a shortness of breath, an extremely sore throat, and pressure or tightness in the chest. When bleach particles are inhaled, they travel directly to the lungs and cause the delicate tissues there to grow inflamed almost immediately. Sometimes breathing difficulties are short-lived, but in many other cases the damage can be lasting — and can get worse if left untreated.

Skin Rashes and Eye Trouble

People who have ingested excessive amounts of bleach often experience skin rash and blurred vision.
People who have ingested excessive amounts of bleach often experience skin rash and blurred vision.

Fumes can also penetrate the delicate mucus surrounding the eyes, which can cause both excessive wateriness and dryness, depending on the person and the extent of the exposure. Skin rashes might also develop. If the bleach came into contact with the skin, as is common on the hands when the chemical has been used for cleaning, breakouts can happen in these areas; red splotches or hives can also develop across the face, chest, or anywhere else where skin is particularly sensitive. When the body is fighting inhaled toxins, many of the most delicate areas can become irritated.

Nausea and Vomiting

Bleach poisoning may cause vomiting.
Bleach poisoning may cause vomiting.

Someone who has inhaled fumes might also experience nausea, though this symptom is far more common when the substance has been swallowed. Nausea and vomiting are some of the body’s most basic ways of flushing out toxins, and they are some of the initial symptoms of poisoning, too. Sufferers may also feel dizzy, get the shakes, or switch from feeling overly hot to very cold within a matter of minutes.

Cognitive Difficulty

Someone who has swallowed bleach will have a burning sensation in their throat.
Someone who has swallowed bleach will have a burning sensation in their throat.

Once the bleach has begun to absorb into a person’s bloodstream, he or she may also begin to display certain difficulties thinking, processing, or expressing information. Slurred speech is a common symptom, as is nonsensical statements and a general sense of confusion. These are usually a sign of serious reaction, and can lead to brain shutdown or coma if left untreated.

Organ and Tissue Damage

People who swallow large amounts of bleach almost always suffer internal damage and scarring, though the symptoms of these conditions can be harder to detect. Abdominal pain, intense cramps, and a sensation of burning or heat can all be indications of organ damage. With prolonged contact the throat and stomach lining can be eaten away, and the esophagus and lungs can become scarred from the burns. The respiratory tract, as well as the intestinal tract, can be damaged to the point of becoming life threatening.

What to Do

Anyone who suspects that they or someone else has been poisoned by bleach should seek prompt medical care, either by visiting an emergency room, calling a community clinic, or getting in touch with local poison control authorities. It can be tempting to induce vomiting, but this isn’t usually a good idea. Bleach that is already in the stomach can actually cause more burning and damage by traveling back up the esophagus and throat. Most experts recommend drinking a lot of water and getting help right away.

Flushing the eyes with water and moving into a well-ventilated area can also help in cases of inhalation. Anyone wearing contact lenses should remove them, as they can actually trap the chemical against the eyeball. A hot, soapy shower may also be of use if the bleach actually made contact with a person’s skin, and breathing the warm steam can be helpful in any event.

Lesser-Known Symptoms of Bleach Poisoning

We know there can be several adverse reactions to bleach exposure, such as vomiting, trouble breathing, and skin or eye irritation. There are also symptoms concerning the kidneys and your blood pressure you should monitor. 

If someone inhaled the poison, some things they might notice are fast breathing, blueing of the skin, and a wheezing or high-pitched sound. Lastly, a doctor may even observe irritation in or around the nostrils.

A person who has encountered too much bleach may begin to experience blurred vision. If you or someone you’re with displays that symptom, it’s a good indication they’ve had considerable exposure. 

Something you might also notice, either through swallowing bleach or through inhalation, is bleeding in the throat, lungs, or nose. Of course, a patient might not have this problem until during an evaluation at a medical center. 

A person can experience abnormal amounts of saliva. Inside our mouths, there are several glands, which create saliva and help keep our mouths moist, fight germs, and contain minerals for tooth enamel. If you accidentally introduced poison into the mouth, those glands are going to want to eliminate the threat. 

There may also be damage to the tooth enamel. Individuals might not notice this particular symptom until a while after ingestion, but a substance such as chlorine could do considerable damage to the mouth, just for the brief period it passes through. 

Regardless of how a person introduces the poison into their bodies, in some cases, they could go into shock. A severe drop in blood pressure, feeling cold, and a rapid pulse characterize a state of shock.

Long-Term Symptoms of Bleach Poisoning

Bleach contains an ingredient called sodium hypochlorite, which is the ingredient that makes it so toxic to humans. People often find sodium hypochlorite in bleaching solutions and purifiers for water. If you swallow a diluted concentration, you might only have an upset stomach.

Mixing sodium hypochlorite with ammonia is dangerous and will produce a gas that can choke you. Always note symptoms like drooling, mouth pain, or chest tightness when working with the chemical.

While you would need to inhale a lot of bleach, or rather sodium hypochlorite, to die, there can be long-term effects on the respiratory system. These include pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and bronchospasm, which causes a tightening of the muscles around the airways and breathing difficulties.

Another severe symptom of significant exposure is metabolic acidosis (kidney failure). An acid buildup causes the condition, and it can result in death. Seek medical help to run lactic acid tests.

If you encounter bleach in the air, it might cause long-term issues with your eyes. 

Preventing Bleach Poisoning

Sometimes the best option for bleach exposure isn’t treatment but prevention. While the medical world is well equipped to help you should you be over-exposed to bleach, the ideal is if you carefully manage the chemical

The most crucial step when using bleach is never to mix it with another chemical. Ammonia is a commonly used chemical found in several household cleaners. When mixed with bleach, it is toxic.

The only thing you should ever mix with bleach is water. This advice is printed on most bleach products, and the label will tell you the proportions for mixing with water. 

Use bleach in a well-ventilated area. Most instances of inhalation issues or skin irritations come from breathing it in too long. Open your windows, and don’t clean in a small area with the door closed. Try to do your cleaning quickly. Fresh air is the best thing to prevent bleach inhalation.

In the event you were exposed to a large amount and need fresh air, try to get to higher ground, since bleach tends to sink low while air rises.

If you have sensitive skin, or even if you don't, wear gloves while using bleach so you don’t over-expose the skin. Keep the chemical locked up. Don’t leave bleach accessible to children or pets. High shelves or locked cupboards are the best places for it when keeping bleach in your home. 

Do small things, wash your hands after use, keep it put away, be conservative with how much you use, and never ingest bleach.

Discussion Comments

anon353184

I think when I was rinsing off my hair dye that I might have swallowed some of the water, as later on that day I felt really unwell. My eyes were blurry and when I bent down I was staggering and my walking was like I was on a boat.

browncoat

@bythewell - Honestly, I think the greatest danger is to kids. Even child-safe bottles aren't that difficult to figure out for a curious child and they will put almost anything in their mouths.

I make sure I keep all my dangerous liquids in a locked cabinet and I'm paranoid about replacing them after I finish.

But I've also made sure to learn poisoning symptoms just in case, for children and for animals. I'll never forget the time, when I was a child, that our dog ate something in the garage and died from it. We were never sure exactly what it was, but I'm determined never to make that mistake twice.

bythewell

@irontoenail - I think people who regularly put bleach into their pool should probably take your advice to heart. It's easy to think that chlorine bleach isn't poisoning you when you use it, because it's relatively harmless after it is diluted. But people can hurt themselves in the process of diluting it, if they aren't careful, and that's particularly true when there are children around who might not understand the danger.

irontoenail

Even reading about this makes me nervous about using bleach. I have to say that I think people who might otherwise be very cautious about poisonous substances often make the mistake of forgetting about airborne danger.

Even if you have got gloves on and are making absolutely sure that the bleach can't touch your skin, you can still hurt yourself if you breathe it in. If you're washing with it, or even using it to color your hair or something like that, it's probably worth sticking a mask over your face as well. You can get them very cheaply in supermarkets, or you can just use a scarf.

Anyone who works with dust or vapor can tell you, it's impossible to avoid once it gets into the air, and bleach can splash around or just evaporate the same way water can. You might not even recognize the signs of poisoning if it happens over time.

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