Shellac poisoning can occur from swallowing shellac.
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.
The substances in shellac that can be harmful are:
- Methyl isobutyl ketone
These substances are found in:
- Paint remover
- Wood finishing products
Other products may also contain these substances.
Below are symptoms of shellac poisoning in different parts of the body.
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
- Blurred vision
- Wide pupils
HEART AND BLOOD
- Low blood pressure
- Severe change of acid level in the blood, which can cause organ failure
- Kidney failure
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Fluid in the lungs
- Blood in the lungs
- Stopped breathing
MUSCLES AND BONES
- Leg cramps
- Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
- Seizures (convulsions)
- Blue-colored skin, lips, or fingernails
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
DO NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. Seek medical help right away.
If the shellac is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the shellac was swallowed, give water to the person right away, unless instructed otherwise by a provider. DO NOT give water if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, seizures, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
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 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 number 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)
- Endoscopy: camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (IV)
- Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation), perhaps every few hours for several days
- Surgery to remove burned skin
- Hemodialysis (kidney machine)
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
Isopropanol and methanol are extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons (14.8 mL) of methanol can kill a child, while 2 to 8 ounces (59 to 236 mL) can be deadly for adults.
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. 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. Aliphatic alcohols. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:146.
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.
Last reviewed on: 9/28/2019
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.