Burned my hands with cleaning products. Now what?
June 2, 2009 6:14 PM   Subscribe

Mild chemical burns on my hands -- do I need to see a doctor?

Cleaned something (not the toilet) using toilet bowl cleaner on Sunday, and stupidly didn't consider the fact that the harsh chemicals shouldn't touch my hands. Now it's Tuesday, and the red itchy spots haven't disappeared. If anything, they're slightly worse.

Now, before you chide me and tell me to see a doctor immediately and not be an idiot, they're not that bad. Still red, still painful, but only the tiniest amount of blistering (I had to stare for a while to even see it), and not so painful that I haven't been able to live my life just fine. Still, it concerns me that they still hurt and that they seem to be worsening.

Also, my insurance kind of sucks and I'm in my last week of grad school with a major project due on Thursday. I definitely don't have time to deal with the student care center (slow, awful, probably expensive) if it's not strictly necessary. That said, if someone with medical training tells me it's necessary, I'll go.

Otherwise, feel free to tell me about your experience, but know that I've already googled this plenty and am well aware that it's always a good idea to seek medical attention for chemical burns. I've read enough FAQs about this to notice that they're all copy-and-pasted versions of the same thing, and they seem to think I'm pretty much on the line between ok and not ok to just let this shit heal itself.
posted by dizziest to Health & Fitness (12 answers total)
Contact dermatitis, probably. I would keep them clean, and possibly wipe some Neosporin (or better, Polysporin) and keep an eye on them. The skin is made to deal with insults.

(IAMAD, but that is what I would do, since I also have sucky insurance.)
posted by Danf at 6:21 PM on June 2, 2009

Many brands of toilet cleaner contain Hydrochloric acid. Do a google for what ever brand cleaner you used+MSDS (Material Safety Data Sheet) it will list the active ingredients, health hazards, and suggested treatments.
posted by Captain_Science at 6:27 PM on June 2, 2009

Found the bottle, did more googling, and it looks like it does contain hydrochloric acid, less than 10%. The MSDS says seek medical attention immediately, but it's been over three days, so that's a bit beside the point. The real problem is that I can't find anything that tells me what to do if I didn't seek medical attention immediately. This can't just be because nobody would be that dumb, right?
posted by dizziest at 6:33 PM on June 2, 2009

At this point I'm not really sure there is much a Dr. could do other then give you a topical cream like Neosporin or something similar. You can think of it as being similar to a bad sunburn. I would put the cream on, and keep an eye that none of the blisters or anything get infected (if so, or if the pain increases, then its definitely Doctor time.)

You could also try calling poison control in your area for advice, I don't know if legally they could tell you anything other then the doctor route but its worth a try for a second opinion.

PS. Usual disclaimer of the fact I am not a doctor.
posted by Captain_Science at 6:47 PM on June 2, 2009

I don't know if this is advisable (chemical reactions and all), but maybe a baking soda solution to dunk your hands in? some sort of basic solution to neutralize the acid. but, if it's been a couple days, then I'm not sure it would work.
posted by ArgentCorvid at 7:05 PM on June 2, 2009

I'm not that kind of doctor, but I work in a lab with occasionally nasty chemicals so here's a somewhat informed opinion from a non-MD: red itchy spots sound like contact dermatitis , an allergic reaction, not a chemical burn (Wiki even says cleaning products are known causes). Burns cause tissue necrosis (explanation and gross picture here), which it doesn't sound like you have.

If it were me, I'd skip the clinic and just keep it clean and maybe put some kind of lotion or anti-itch cream on it if the itching were very annoying. Obviously, if it gets worse go see the pros, but this sounds pretty mild to me.

-Dr Quietgal, Ph.D.
posted by Quietgal at 7:10 PM on June 2, 2009

Manufacturers of cleaning products probably say to get immediate medical help so that, if they are sued by a person who claims to have been injured by their products, they can say "But we say right here on the label that this product is potentially harmful and that the person harmed from it should seek medical attention immediately...."


It doesn't follow that you should, in fact, seek medical attention.
posted by dfriedman at 7:36 PM on June 2, 2009

I think Quietgal and others are probably right, you probably have allergic contact dermatitis or eczema. Try some over the counter hydrocortisone cream (and maybe also an antihistamine like Benadryl, if it is really itchy.) At the same time, be sure to only use mild/unscented soap, and also keep your hands moisturized with something like Eucerin.

Also, now that you have had this kind of reaction once, please be sure to wear gloves if you ever use a product like this again.

You probably won't need to go to a doctor, but take precautions if the rash would get blistery, crusty or weepy. With eczema, it is possible to get a secondary infection through a break in the skin, like a staph infection. This article has some info..
posted by gudrun at 7:56 PM on June 2, 2009

When I worked in a factory building large things, we had a lot of solvents for cleaning. Of course most people wore gloves or used q-tips but one coworker decided to go at it without gloves. One day I looked over and it looked like his hands had been in a fire. They were red and a lot of skin flaking. I did a "Oh Jesus, man?" and asked him about it. Sure enough he just shrugged and said he didn't want to go through the hassle of putting on gloves. I don't know what changed his mind but he started to be a bit more careful, after a few weeks his hands had totally cleared up and were fine.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:50 PM on June 2, 2009

Thanks everyone. Put some hydrocortisone on and one hand is looking much better. The other still hurts quite a bit, but it's been worse the whole time, so I'm not too worried.

(and now, back to work!)
posted by dizziest at 9:44 PM on June 2, 2009

Just another thought--could you call poison control and ask their advice?
posted by agentwills at 6:37 AM on June 3, 2009

Yeah, the other comments marked best are correct: the strong bases that make up toilet bowl cleaner are designed to be only acutely toxic and non-bioaccumulative. That is, they can cause a lot of damage to bare skin, but there are few lasting effects. The only danger to you now is secondary infection to the open skin. If the wounds get red, itchy, swollen or hot, I'd consider making an appointment with my doctor.

Be careful of washing any clothes that might have been in contact also---the chemicals can chew through clothing fibres just as easily as your skin. If you're not sure, rinse well (but don't soak) in cold water before washing.
posted by bonehead at 7:16 AM on June 3, 2009

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