Boric acid poisoning
Boric acid is a dangerous poison. Poisoning from this chemical can be acute or chronic. Acute boric acid poisoning usually occurs when someone swallows powdered roach-killing products that contain the chemical.
Chronic poisoning occurs in those who are repeatedly exposed to boric acid. For example, in the past, boric acid was used to disinfect and treat wounds. Patients who received such treatment over and over again got sick, and some died.
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 a local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Antiseptics and astringents
- Enamels and glazes
- Glass fiber manufacturing
- Medicated powders
- Skin lotions
- Some paints
- Some rodent and ant pesticides
- Photography chemicals
- Powders to kill roaches
- Some eye wash products
Note: This list may not be all inclusive.
The main symptoms of boric acid poisoning are blue-green vomit, diarrhea, and a bright red rash on the skin. Other symptoms may include:
- Lack of desire to do anything
- Low blood pressure
- Significantly decreased urine output (or none)
- Sloughing of skin
- Twitching of facial muscles, arms, hands, legs, and feet
If the chemical is on the skin, remove by washing the area thoroughly.
If the chemical was swallowed, seek medical treatment immediately.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- The patient's age, weight, and condition
- The name of the product (ingredients and strengths if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
Poison Control, or a local emergency number
In the United States, call 1-800-222-1222 to speak with a local poison control center. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. 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.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to expect at the emergency room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Treatment depends on the individual symptoms. The patient may receive:
- Camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach (endoscopy)
- Fluids by mouth or IV
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
Note: Activated charcoal does not effectively treat (absorb) boric acid.
The infant death rate from boric acid poisonings is high. However, boric acid poisoning is considerably rarer than in the past because the substance is no longer used as a disinfectant in nurseries. It is also no longer commonly used in medical preparations. Boric acid is an ingredient in some vaginal suppositories used for yeast infections, although this is NOT a standard treatment.
Goldfrank LR. Ed. Goldfrank’s Toxicologic Emergencies. 8th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2006.
Cain WS. Sensory and associated reactions to mineral dusts: sodium borate, calcium oxide, and calcium sulfate. J Occup Environ Hyg. April 2004; 1(4): 222-36.
Matsuda K Toxicological analyses over the past five years at a single institution. Rinsho Byori.Oct. 2004; 52(10): 819-23.
Last reviewed 2/1/2013 by Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.
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