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Paraffin poisoning

Definition

Paraffin is a solid waxy substance used to make candles and other items. This article discusses what may occur if you swallow or eat paraffin.

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.

Alternative Names

Wax poisoning - paraffin

Poisonous Ingredient

Paraffin

Where Found

  • Some arthritis bath/spa treatments
  • Some candles
  • Some waxes

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Eating a lot of paraffin can lead to intestinal obstruction, which can cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and possible constipation.

If the paraffin contains a dye, a person who has an allergy to that dye may develop tongue and throat swelling, wheezing, and trouble breathing.

Home Care

Do NOT make the person throw up. Contact poison control for help.

If the person has an allergic reaction, call 911 or your local emergency number.

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

Poison Control

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.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. The person may receive:

  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms
  • Mild laxatives to help move the paraffin through the intestine and be removed from the body

If an allergic reaction occurs, the person may need:

  • Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)

Outlook (Prognosis)

Paraffin is usually nontoxic (not harmful) if swallowed in small amounts. Recovery is likely. The person will likely be asked to drink large amounts of fluids to help remove the paraffin from the bowel. This will help reduce the risk of complications.

References

Kulig K. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 147.

Shannon MW. Emergency management of poisoning. In: Shannon MW, ed. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 2.


Review Date: 11/3/2014
Reviewed By: 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.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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