Rubbing alcohol poisoning; Isopropyl alcohol poisoning
Isopropanol is a type of alcohol used in some household products, medicines, and cosmetics. It is not meant to be swallowed. Isopropanol poisoning occurs when someone swallows this substance. This can be by accident or on purpose.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call the local emergency number (such as 911), or the 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.
Isopropyl alcohol can be harmful if it is swallowed or gets in the eyes.
These products contain isopropanol:
- Alcohol swabs
- Cleaning supplies
- Paint thinners
- Rubbing alcohol
Other products may also contain isopropanol.
Symptoms of an isopropanol poisoning include:
- Acting or feeling drunk
- Slurred speech
- Uncoordinated movement
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Unpaired movements of the eyes
- Throat pain
- Abdominal pain
- Burns and damage to the clear covering of the front of the eye (cornea)
- Low body temperature
- Low blood pressure
- Low blood sugar
- Nausea and vomiting (may contain blood)
- Rapid heart rate
- Skin redness and pain
- Slowed breathing
- Urination problems (too much or too little urine)
Seek medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. If the isopropanol is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the isopropanol was swallowed, give the person water or milk right away, unless a provider tells you not to. DO NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, seizures, or a decreased level of alertness. If the person breathed in the isopropanol, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
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 national 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.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
Take the container to the hospital with you, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Tests that may done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Tube through the nose into the stomach to empty the stomach, if the person took more than one swallow and arrives within 30 to 60 minutes after swallowing it (especially in children)
- Dialysis (kidney machine) (in very rare cases)
- Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs and connected to a breathing machine (ventilator)
How well someone does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster someone gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Drinking isopropanol will most likely make you very drunk. Recovery is very likely if a person does not swallow a large amount.
However, drinking large amounts can lead to:
- Coma and possibly brain damage
- Internal bleeding
- Breathing difficulty
- Kidney failure
It is dangerous to give a child a sponge bath with isopropanol to reduce a fever. Isopropanol is absorbed through the skin, so it can make children very sick.
Nelson ME. Toxic alcohols. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 141.
Olives TD, Ling LJ. The alcohols: ethylene glycol, methanol, isopropyl alcohol, and alcohol-related complications. In: Bakes KM, Buchanan JA, Moreira ME, Byyny R, Pons PT, eds. Emergency Medicine Secrets. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2022:chap 71.
Last reviewed on: 11/13/2021
Reviewed by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.