Lighter fluid poisoning
Lighter fluid is a flammable liquid found in cigarette lighters and other types of lighters. Lighter fluid poisoning occurs when someone swallows this substance.
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 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.
The harmful substances in lighter fluids are called hydrocarbons. They include:
Various lighter fluids contain these substances.
Below are symptoms of lighter fluid poisoning in different parts of the body.
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
KIDNEYS AND BLADDER
- Decreased urine output
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure that develops rapidly (shock)
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain
- Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Extreme sleepiness
- Inability to sleep
- Lack of desire to do anything
- Uncoordinated movements
- Seizures (convulsions)
- Holes in the skin or tissues under the skin
Get medical help right away. Do not make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the lighter fluid is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person swallowed the lighter fluid, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to do so. Do not give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness.
If the person breathed in fumes of the lighter fluid, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (and ingredients, 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 with you to the hospital, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram), or heart tracing
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Medicine to treat symptoms
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through the vein (by IV)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Surgery to remove burned skin
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
How well someone does depends on how severe their poisoning is and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. Burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract can lead to tissue necrosis, resulting in infection, shock, and death, even several months after the substance was first swallowed. Scars may form in these tissues leading to long-term difficulties with breathing, swallowing, and digestion.
Aronson JK. Organic solvents. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:385-389.
Wang GS, Buchanan JA. Hydrocarbons. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 152.
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.