Hair straightener poisoning
Hair straightener poisoning occurs when someone swallows chemicals used to straighten hair.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Ammonium thioglycolate (found in relaxer/straightener products that do not use lye)
Guanidine hydroxide (found in relaxer/straightener products that do not use lye)
Sodium hydroxide (found in relaxer/straightener products that use lye)
- Various hair straighteners
- Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat
- Loss of vision
- Severe pain in the throat
- Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
- Heart and blood
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly
- Severe change in blood acid levels -- leads to organ damage
- Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
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, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the patient is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Patient's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Poison Control, or a local emergency number
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called 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.
See: Poison control center - emergency number
What to expect at the emergency room
The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:
- Breathing support
Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Fluids through a vein (by IV)
Medicines to treat the effects of the poison
Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage
Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days
If the poisoning is severe, you may be admitted to the hospital.
How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach is possible. The outcome depends on the extent of this damage. Damage can continue to occur to the esophagus and stomach for several weeks after the product is swallowed.
Caraccio TR, McFee RB. Cosmetics and toilet articles. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 100.
- Last reviewed on 1/21/2010
- Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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