Inhaled ethanol alcohol fumes while cleaning and feel unwell. Doctor?
January 19, 2014 8:18 AM   Subscribe

Inhaled ethanol alcohol fumes while cleaning and feel unwell. Doctor?

Leaving aside how stupid I may have been, I was spraying a large amount of rubbing alcohol (it says "Kespol 75% ethanol solution," I assume there is no isopropyl alcohol in it but the bottle is in Chinese so IDK) on something as part of cleaning it. After some time, my nose and throat started to burn badly. I stopped for a couple minutes and then covered my nose and mouth and continued. I started to feel slightly drunk -- a little clumsy and hard to think completely straight -- but IDK if I was imagining it, because the situation made me stressed out and I am fairly susceptible to stress; also, I am kind of tired and didn't eat dinner (it's midnight here). Later, my stomach hurt for maybe 5-10 mins total. I stopped, took a shower (about 15-20 mins total), and am now writing this. I still feel weird and like it's hard to think, but tiredness is now the overriding sensation so it'd be hard to be more detailed. Should I be worried about this? Do I need to see a doctor? (Sorry if this is a stupid question.)
posted by John Raskolnikov Gilson to Health & Fitness (13 answers total)
Is there someone else with you who can keep an eye on you?
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:21 AM on January 19, 2014

Call your doctor? S/he will be able to tell you whether it's urgent. Or maybe there is something called Poison Control (or similar) where you are?

In any case, talk to an expert and get hirs opinion.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:21 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Nobody is with me who could keep an eye on me and I am in a foreign country (Taiwan) where I don't speak the language well; I could go to a hospital but can't call a doctor or poison control.
posted by John Raskolnikov Gilson at 8:28 AM on January 19, 2014

Ethanol doesn't care whether it gets into your bloodstream through your gut or your lungs. You're most likely just drunk.

If I were you, I'd drink a heap of water, take a Vitamin B, and sleep it off.
posted by flabdablet at 8:31 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Can't you call a doctor in a different country than where you are, just to get advice?
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:33 AM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you can't contact a health specialist, at least get some fresh air while deciding whether to see a doctor or not. Usually once the airborne irritant is removed, the person will recover or at least feel better. IANAD
posted by JujuB at 8:34 AM on January 19, 2014

I called California poison control via Skype and the woman who answered told me it didn't sound like a problem to her, although she evaded answering the question I asked her about any possible difference between ethanol vs. isopropyl alcohol in this context, so IDK how much she knows. Would welcome further internet opinions, appreciate your guys' help so far. Am walking outside.
posted by John Raskolnikov Gilson at 8:50 AM on January 19, 2014

Does the container pictured in this word document look familiar? And, if so, can someone who can translate the Chinese mention whether or not the ethanol is 'denatured' or otherwise contaminated with isopropyl alcohol, benzene, methanol, or anything else similarly unpleasant?

Assuming the ethanol is not denatured, and barring any relevant medical history you haven't mentioned, there should be no need for medical help. Fluids, fresh air, and putting something solid but gentle to eat in front of you and then giving it a shot if it makes you feel hungry would be a good idea. If the ethanol is denatured, giving poison control another shot would be wise.
posted by Blasdelb at 8:53 AM on January 19, 2014

Also, there is a non-intuitive effect where if you surreptitiously give alcohol to undergrads in an experimental setting without their knowledge, all they really report is unpleasant flu like symptoms including a headache and vague grumpiness, that is all alcohol really is without the culture or chemical dependence. However, if you give undergrads liquid that they think is alcohol but isn't in a mock up experimental bar, they start stumbling around, laughing loudly, and hitting on each other. In general, getting alcohol into ones system without any of the cultural cues that come with booze is a really different and unfamiliar thing that could handily explain what you're reporting here, but this is still an unknown industrial compound that you've inhaled significant quantities of, which is worth respecting.

Needless to say, please make sure you don't drive or operate heavy machinery, and please be vigilant about your surroundings for a good long while after you feel better. There is a reason why in the UK, where they are wise to this phenomenon, one in five drunk drivers are caught the morning after. Absent the cultural cues of drinking, it is even harder to accurately assess ones level of impairedness.
posted by Blasdelb at 9:08 AM on January 19, 2014 [8 favorites]

Unfortunately, the document Blasdelb linked only indicates the reason the TaiDa hospital changed its cleansing solution to Kespol, the usage instructions for Kespol, and warnings. It doesn't indicate exactly what is the other 25% of the alcohol mixture. The website also doesn't help--it reads more like a pamphlet. (Although there are separate "denatured alcohol" products--with varying percentages--so hopefully your version wasn't cut with methanol or something.)

OP, if you can take a closer picture of the label, I can try to translate for you.
posted by Zelos at 1:14 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

Closer pic of the label:

Surely they would have to indicate if there were something else dangerous in it?
posted by John Raskolnikov Gilson at 6:17 PM on January 19, 2014

Ingredients-wise, all the relevant stuff is in the English portion (the stuff in Chinese is about what it's used for and how to use). This was diluted to 75% EtOH from 95% stock. It doesn't indicate what the other 5% was in the stock solution. My guess is water.

As this is a professional antiseptic solution, I highly doubt they'd intentionally put anything in there that's outright toxic. It was probably diluted with more water (and perhaps a little bit of thickener if your solution is more gel-like). The label doesn't indicate denatured alcohol or anything of note (anything contaminants from the stock should be caught in the QA process), and the instructions indicate that it's safe to touch food directly after use.

I don't think you have anything to worry about--alcohol burning delicate mucus membranes is pretty typical.
posted by Zelos at 9:00 PM on January 19, 2014

It is really pretty trivial to make 100% ethanol solutions industrially, but the moment they are exposed to the Earth's atmosphere 100% solutions of ethanol dilute themselves by dragging water vapor out of the air. This is why, outside of a lab or some very sensitive application, you never find 100% solutions - because it won't be a 100% anymore the moment you open the bottle anyway. Thus, solutions of ethanol labeled 95% like everclear are generally somewhere between 90 and 96%, depending on how long they've been open and local humidity.

While the fact that the bottle didn't mention any denaturing is no guarantee that is wasn't, it was likely fine. Unless you still feel off in a way a hangover wouldn't I wouldn't worry, but if you do there'd be no harm in checking it out with a doctor.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about--alcohol burning delicate mucus membranes is pretty typical."

He he
posted by Blasdelb at 8:00 AM on January 20, 2014

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