What Are the Symptoms of Bleach Poisoning?

C. Daw

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.

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

Respiratory Problems

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.

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

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.

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.

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.

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

Cognitive Difficulty

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.

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.

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Discussion Comments


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.


@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.


@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.


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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