This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing or breathing in (sniffing) products to remove paint, lacquer, or varnish.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Paint remover poisoning
Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers may contain the following poisonous ingredients:
Paint, lacquer, and varnish removers are sold under various brand names.
Airways and lungs:
Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:
Severe pain in the throat
Severe pain or burning in the nose, eyes, ears, lips, or tongue
Abdominal pain -- severe
Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
Vomiting, possibly with blood
Heart and blood:
Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
Necrosis (holes) in the skin or underlying tissues
Coma (decreased level of consciousness and lack of responsiveness)
Dizziness (from sniffing)
Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
The person's age, weight, and condition
Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
The time it was swallowed
The amount swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called 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.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:
Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs, and breathing machine (ventilator)
Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
EKG (heart tracing)
Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
Fluids through a vein (IV)
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
How well a person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Swallowing such poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body. The ultimate outcome depends on the extent of this damage.
Mirkin DB. Benzene and related aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 94.
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.