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.
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
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
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.
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.