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Trisodium phosphate poisoning

Definition

Trisodium phosphate is a strong chemical. Poisoning occurs if you swallow, breathe in, or spill large amounts of this substance on your skin.

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.

Alternative Names

Sodium orthophosphate poisoning; Trisodium orthophosphate poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

Trisodium phosphate

Where Found

These products may contain trisodium phosphate:

  • Some automatic dishwashing soaps
  • Some toilet bowl cleaners
  • Many industrial solvents and cleaners (hundreds to thousands of construction agents, flooring strippers, brick cleaners, cements, and many others)

Other products also contain trisodium phosphate.

Symptoms

Below are symptoms of trisodium phosphate poisoning or exposure in different parts of the body.

AIRWAYS AND LUNGS

  • Breathing difficulty (from inhaling trisodium phosphate)
  • Coughing
  • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)

ESOPHAGUS, STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • Blood in the stool
  • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe) and stomach
  • Diarrhea
  • Severe abdominal pain
  • Vomiting, possibly bloody

EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT

  • Drooling
  • Severe pain in the throat
  • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
  • Vision loss

HEART AND BLOOD

  • Low blood pressure (develops rapidly)
  • Collapse
  • Severe change in blood acid level
  • Shock

SKIN

  • Burns
  • Hives
  • Holes in the skin or tissue under the skin
  • Skin irritation

Home Care

DO NOT make a person throw up.

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. DO NOT give water or milk if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow (such as vomiting or decreased alertness).

If the person breathed in the poison, move them to fresh air right away.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

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.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container that contains trisodium phosphate with you to the hospital, if possible.

Treatment depends on how the poisoning occurred. The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated. Pain medicines will be given.

For swallowed poison, the person may receive:

  • Endoscopy. Camera is placed down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids by IV (through a vein)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

For inhaled poisons, the person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including oxygen and a tube through the nose or mouth into the lungs
  • Bronchoscopy. Camera is placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids by IV (through a vein)
  • Medicine to treat symptoms

For skin exposure, the person may receive:

  • Skin debridement (surgical removal of burned skin)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation). Perhaps every few hours for several days.
  • Ointments applied to the skin

For eye exposure, the person may receive:

  • Extensive irrigation to flush out the poison
  • Medicines

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

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.

References

Cohen DE, de Souza A. Irritant contact dermatitis. In: Bolognia JL, Jorizzo JL, Schaffer JV, et al, eds. Dermatology. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 15.

Wax PM, Young A. Caustics. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 153.

Review Date:7/6/2015
Reviewed By:Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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