The Poison Control Center

Irritating Chemicals

Irritating chemicals, called caustics, are ingredients that can cause severe burns or injuries. Most caustics tend to be highly acidic or basic, depending on the ingredient’s pH [a scale that determines whether a substance is acidic (i.e. lemon juice) or basic (e.g. baking soda)].

There are different ways we can expose our bodies to caustics:

There are some caustic tips to be aware of to help protect you or your family when you may be exposed to common strong caustics.


Swallowing a strong acid or base may cause injury to the lips, mouth, throat and stomach. Burns to the lips or mouth may result in swelling of the lips and white, patchy areas inside the mouth.

Sometimes the inside of the mouth may appear normal even though the throat or stomach may have been burned. Such "skipped burns" are more common with liquid products than solid products (e.g., powders) because liquids tend to have less contact time with the mouth.

Symptoms include:

If your child has ingested a caustic substance, follow the steps below and call The Poison Control Center.

  1. Rinse the mouth with a little water or milk to rid it of any caustic that may still be there.
  2. Look for symptoms of injury including visible burns in the mouth or the signs and symptoms listed above.
  3. If there is any sign of injury, take your child to the emergency department immediately.
  4. NEVER make your child vomit. Bringing up the caustic may cause more injury.
  5. NEVER try to “neutralize” the acid or base by making your child ingest another ingredient. This combination can create a heat reaction, which might bring on further injury.

Skin contact

Skin contact with caustics can cause mild to severe burns, depending on the strength of the product, the amount splashed on the skin and the duration of contact with the skin.

There are three types of burns you can get from caustic agents:

If a caustic substance comes into contact with your child's skin, follow the steps below and call The Poison Control Center.

  1. Flush the exposed skin areas with large amounts of lukewarm water and soap.
  2. Apply a cool compress for 10-minute periods. Do not put ice directly against your child's skin.
  3. Go to the nearest emergency department if blisters develop.
  4. NEVER try to neutralize the burn with another ingredient.


Breathing in caustic products may cause irritation of the nose, throat, airways, and stomach. Severe exposures may even result in burns to the airways.

Symptoms of inhaling caustics may include:

People most susceptible to medical complications are those who inhale caustic fumes in an enclosed area for a long time and those with a pre-existing airway disease, such as asthma, bronchitis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

If your child has inhaled a caustic prduct, follow the steps below and call The Poison Control Center.

  1. Leave the area of exposure.
  2. Have your child inhale steam or humidified air for 20 minutes. Repeat as needed.
  3. Have your child gargle with lukewarm water and drink clear fluids.
  4. Go to the nearest emergency room if symptoms persist despite home treatment, and/or if your child has a medical history of airway disease.

Eye exposure

A caustic product splashed in the eye may cause pain, redness, blurry vision, and abrasions or burns to the protective coating of the eye. Fumes from a caustic product may also irritate the eyes.

In case of a caustic eye exposure, immediately call the Poison Control Center or your chid's physician, then follow the steps below.

  1. Immediately flood your child's eyes with lukewarm water for 20 minutes, and then take your child to the nearest hospital for an eye exam.
  2. Do not use eye washes or compresses — they are not effective.
  3. NEVER try to neutralize the burn with another ingredient!

Caustic tips

Examples of strong caustics

  • Oven cleaners
  • Drain openers
  • Rust removers
  • Toilet bowl cleaners
  • Mildew stain removers
  • Industrial cleaning products
  • Cement
  • Soldering flux
  • Battery contents (household and car)
  • Hair perms and relaxers


Reviewed by: The Poison Control Center
Date: October 2013

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