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Window cleaner poisoning


Definition:

Window cleaner poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in large amounts of window cleaner.

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.

Poisonous Ingredient:

Older window cleaners may contain:

  • Ammonia
  • Ethanol
  • Isopropyl alcohol
  • Methanol

New types of window cleaners are considered safer.

Where Found:
  • Glass Gleam
  • Sparkle Glass Cleaner
  • Squeegee Off
  • Windex

Note: This list does not include all types of glass cleaners.

Symptoms:

Note: Most symptoms are seen with older window cleaners containing the toxic ingredients listed above.

Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:

  • Loss of vision
  • Severe pain in the throat
  • Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue

Gastrointestinal:

Heart and blood:

Lungs and airways:

  • Breathing difficulty (from breathing in the substance)
  • Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)

Nervous system:

  • Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
  • Dizziness
  • Insomnia
  • Irritability
  • Severe brain damage
  • Sleepiness
  • Stupor
  • Walking difficulties

Skin:

  • Irritation
  • Burns
  • Holes (necrosis) in the skin or tissues underneath
Home Care:

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 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.

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency:

Determine the following information:

  • Patient's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed
Poison Control:

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:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth and into the lungs, connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through the vein (by IV)
  • 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
Outlook (Prognosis):

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.

References:

Jacobsen D, Hovda KE. Methanol, ethylene glycol, and other toxic alcohols. 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 32.

White SR. Toxic Alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 155.


Review Date: 1/24/2014
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.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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