Hydrofluoric acid poisoning
Hydrofluoric acid is a chemical that is a very strong acid. It is usually in liquid form. Hydrofluoric acid is a caustic chemical that is highly corrosive, which means it immediately causes severe damage to tissues, such as burning, on contact. This article discusses poisoning from swallowing, breathing in, or touching hydrofluoric acid.
This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
This acid is most commonly used for industrial purposes. It is used in:
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
From breathing in (inhaling) the acid:
If the poison touched your skin or eyes, you may have:
Hydrofluoric acid poisoning can have direct effects on the heart. It can lead to irregular, and sometimes life-threatening, heartbeats.
People who come into contact with this poison are likely to have a combination of the listed symptoms.
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 is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
Immediately take the person to the hospital.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Your local poison control center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline 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.
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 person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Swallowing this acid can cause a severe drop in blood pressure. If the person breathed in fumes from the acid, the provider may hear signs of fluid in the lungs when listening to the chest with a stethoscope.
Specific treatment depends on how the poisoning occurred. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.
If the person swallowed the poison, treatment may include:
If the person touched the poison, treatment may include:
If the person breathed in the poison, treatment may include:
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Hydrofluoric acid is especially dangerous. The most common accidents involving hydrofluoric acid cause severe burns on the skin and hands. The burns may be extremely painful. People will have a lot of scarring and some loss of function in the affected area.
The person may need to be admitted to a hospital to continue treatment. Swallowing this poison can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Extensive damage to the mouth, throat, and stomach are possible. Holes (perforations) in the esophagus and stomach may cause serious infections in the chest and abdominal cavities, which may result in death. Surgery may be needed to repair the perforations. Cancer of the esophagus is a high risk in people who live after ingesting hydrofluoric acid.
Hoyte C. Caustics. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 148.
U.S. National Library of Medicine, Specialized Information Services, Toxicology Data Network website. Hydrogen fluoride. toxnet.nlm.nih.gov. Updated July 26, 2018. Accessed January 17, 2019.
Review Date: 12/21/2018
Reviewed By: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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