Rubber cement poisoning
Rubber cement is a common household glue. It is often used for arts and crafts projects. Breathing in large amounts of rubber cement fumes or swallowing any amount can be extremely dangerous, especially for a small child.
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 rubber cement are:
- Isopropyl alcohol
Various brands of rubber cement contain these substances.
Most symptoms occur in people who repeatedly sniff rubber cement to get high. The symptoms below can occur in different parts of the body.
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
- Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
- Throat swelling (which may also cause breathing difficulty)
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Burning in the nose, lips, throat, or eyes
- Vision loss
HEART AND BLOOD
- Change in the acid balance of the blood, which can lead to organ damage
- Low blood pressure (shock)
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
- Abdominal pain
- Convulsions (seizures)
- Muscle spasms
- Nerve problems
- Unconsciousness (lack of responsiveness)
- Unsteady walk
Do not make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider. Seek medical help right away.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person swallowed rubber cement, 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 the rubber cement, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product
- 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 look for burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (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)
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing or putting small amounts of rubber cement in your mouth is often harmless. However, eating large amounts on purpose can cause damage to your brain, liver, and kidneys. Severe damage to your brain, lungs, and kidneys can occur over time from repeatedly sniffing rubber cement.
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.