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What Is the Treatment for Isopropyl Alcohol Ingestion?

Isopropyl alcohol is found in many households and in cleaning products.
Poison control responders may recomend that a poison patient drink milk.
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  • Written By: Natalie M. Smith
  • Edited By: E. E. Hubbard
  • Last Modified Date: 07 April 2014
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The most crucial step in treating isopropyl alcohol ingestion is seeking immediate help from emergency medical personnel or a poison control agency. These experts will then determine the best treatment based on the patient's demographic information, the symptoms presented, and when and how much alcohol was consumed. Poisoned individuals might be given liquids if they are conscious and able to swallow. Since drinking isopropyl alcohol can result in adverse consequences or even death, more intense treatment might also be required, such dialysis or breathing support.

Isopropyl alcohol is a non-drinking alcohol found in many household products, including rubbing alcohol, perfumes, and cleaning supplies. To prevent children from drinking it, medical and child care experts recommend storing such products securely. Furthermore, people who work with or use products containing this alcohol should clean their hands thoroughly after each exposure, especially before eating or touching their mouths. In the event of a definite or suspected poisoning, prompt medical attention is required.

A patient's age and weight, as well as the type and amount of the product consumed, influence treatment options, so it is best to have this information handy when contacting emergency personnel. Drinking milk or water might be the initial form of treatment for those patients who are fully alert and are neither vomiting nor convulsing. It is important that patients not be given liquids or forced to vomit unless directed to do so by a poison control or medical professional.

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Medical professionals also use a patient's symptoms, demographics, and details of the poisoning to determine the best treatment plan once the patient is hospitalized. His or her vital signs are tested and closely monitored. Some patients suffer dehydration, high levels of alcohol toxicity, and breathing or choking problems, as well as stomach irritation and other possible life threatening consequences. To prevent or treat these symptoms, healthcare professionals might provide intravenous fluids, kidney dialysis, breathing support, and special stomach treatments. Patients who have ingested small amounts of alcohol and receive treatment quickly are the most likely to recover.

Paramedics and other first responders are not the only individuals who can help to treat isopropyl alcohol ingestion immediately. Some regions also have local or national poison control agencies that handle such matters. For instance, in the United States, the National Poison Control Center fields phone calls at all times to respond to poisoning emergencies, as well as provide related non-emergency support.

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Discuss this Article

titans62
Post 10

@TreeMan - I'm not a doctor or chemist or anything, but I was curious about the same thing, so I looked it up. As we've already established, isopropyl alcohol is a different structure from ethyl alcohol. Apparently, isopropyl is much more reactive with certain cells in our body. Once the alcohol enters our liver, it starts to break it down.

In the case of ethyl alcohol, our livers turn it into something that is easily removed from our body. With isopropyl, the chemicals that are formed can actually eat away at our bodies. Like someone else mentioned, it can even cause blindness in some cases.

I also read that isopropyl alcohol is often called wood alcohol, since that is what makes it in nature. Ethyl is usually called grain alcohol. I guess that explains why we never ferment trees for alcohol. I'm sure someone figured that out the hard way, though.

TreeMan
Post 9

@kentuckycat and @JimmyT - The strength of the alcohol would also play a big role. Usually, I think what is sold at the store is called 70 isopropyl alcohol meaning that it is 70% alcohol by volume. I have also seen extremely strong 99 isopropyl alcohol that you can buy at most pharmacies.

Think about that in the context of ethyl alcohol that you can drink. The average liquor is usually only 60% alcohol. That's not to say you can't drink nearly 100% ethyl alcohol, but it's not common.

I'm still not familiar with the pathways that the alcohol would take once it enters your body, though. If anyone has got any information on that, I would definitely be interested to hear it.

JimmyT
Post 8

@kentuckycat - The word alcohol is just a term chemists use to describe a certain string of carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen that forms in certain cases. The arrangement of the elements and any other elements that join onto the molecule determines the actual kind of alcohol that is formed. Another of the common types of alcohol is methyl alcohol.

The amount of isopropyl alcohol you drink before you have any problems is a lot like other poisons. It all depends on your body size, metabolism, and other neutralizing factors that might be present. I have read that normally something like 6 ounces is when you really start to have problems. That's about a cup and a half. You can still have issues before 6 ounces, but the alcohol might just make you very sick, not cause permanent damage or death.

kentuckycat
Post 7

I had no idea there were so many bad things that could come from drinking isopropyl alcohol. What is so difficult about isopropyl alcohol as compared to ethyl alcohol that you can safely drink (in most cases)? Shouldn't alcohol have the same effects in any situation?

If you do end up drinking isopropyl alcohol, how much do you have to drink before it is really dangerous? Also, what exactly are the processes that happen inside your body that make it dangerous?

Now that I am thinking about it, how do they even go about making isopropyl alcohol? Is it something that has to be created in a lab, or do things in nature make isopropyl alcohol?

JessicaLynn
Post 6

@ceilingcat - Well, you can tell kids stuff all you want, but sometimes they just don't listen! That's why it's a good idea to store stuff that could be poisonous out of reach of little grabby hands! This includes 70 isopropyl alcohol as well as cleaning supplies, pesticides, and gardening supplies.

Anyway, I had no idea that ingesting rubbing alcohol could cause such serious symptoms. I thought drinking rubbing alcohol would be like drinking a lot of any other alcohol, and might give you alcohol poisoning. I had no idea it could kill you, or result in the need to kidney dialysis! Very scary.

ceilingcat
Post 5

I don't have any kids, so I don't really worry about storing my isopropyl alcohol disinfectant in a cabinet where it's easy to reach. I've never even thought about how unsafe it might be if there are children around.

I have a few friends who bring their kids over to my house sometimes, so I think I'm going to re-evaluate where I store my rubbing alcohol. I would hate for anyone to come over to my house and then have a medical emergency because the rubbing alcohol was too easy to get to.

Also, parents should definitely make it clear to their kids that stuff in the medicine cabinet or cleaning supply area isn't for drinking!

indemnifyme
Post 4

@fify - I agree. It seems like ingestion of isopropyl alcohol can result in some pretty serious consequences. And treatment seems to be on a case by case basis too! So I think professional help is probably necessary for possible isopropyl alcohol poisoning.

I would probably just call 911 instead of calling poison control. I know poison control can give situation based advice, but they can't examine you over the phone. For something like this, I think seeing a doctor in person is probably the best idea. Plus, if it's a really serious emergency, calling poison control might waste valuable time.

fify
Post 3

@burcinc-- I personally think that the only recommendations in this situation should be made by a medical expert or someone from the poison control center.

I believe it's not good to vomit, unless a doctor or nurse says to do so. I've also heard that it's good to drink milk and water right after rubbing alcohol ingestion. Protecting the stomach is one reason, and trying to get it out of the system as soon as possible might be the other.

But this treatment probably depends on how much you drank. If you drank a lot, I highly doubt that drinking milk and water will help much. So it's not a good idea to stay home after drinking isopropyl alcohol because you've had milk. I would personally have milk on my way out the door to the ER or while waiting for the ambulance.

It's best to get checked out by a doctor even if you've had a little bit. You just never know what might happen. Isopropyl alcohol causes gastrointestinal problems in the least, and organ failure and death in worst cases.

burcinc
Post 2

@alisha-- I hear all sorts of crazy stories about this too, from my friend who is a 911 dispatcher.

I learned recently that a lot of things have isopropyl alcohol in them, like hand sanitizers, nail polish remover and first aid antiseptic solutions. So kids and pets can ingest it pretty easily if parents don't keep a close eye on them.

I've heard about drinking milk in case of accidental ingestion too, to reduce effects of isopropyl alcohol on the stomach. But aside from protecting the stomach, does milk help in any other way in this situation?

What about vomiting? Is it good for people to try to vomit if they realize they swallowed isopropyl alcohol?

discographer
Post 1

My mom works in the ER and she mentioned several times that ingesting rubbing alcohol is really dangerous. She has seen many people come into the ER because of it and some of them almost died, one did die from it.

She also said that the treatment depends on the type of isopropyl alchohol. Apparently, there is one type which also has ethanol in it which can cause blindness. In fact, some manufacturers put these chemicals in it on purpose to prevent people from drinking it for alcohol purposes.

Shockingly, there are people with alcohol problems who can consume things like rubbing alcohol and perfume if they can't get a hold of any alcohol.

But since most people won't know which other ingredients and chemicals are in there, it's always best to get isopropyl alcohol poisoning treatment at the hospital. And as far as I know, if there is dizziness, nausea, vomiting or headache- poisoning has already taken place. Call 911!

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