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ER or Not: My Child Drank Drain Cleaner

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ER or Not: My Child Drank Drain Cleaner

Apr 30, 2014

Your child drank some drain cleaner, and you’re wondering whether to rush her to the ER. Emergency physician Dr. Troy Madsen discusses this situation and his answer might surprise you.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Is it bad enough to go to the emergency room, or isn't it? Find out now. This is E.R. or Now on The Scope. Time for another edition of E.R. or Not, where you get to play along, along with Dr. Troy Madsen, emergency medicine at University of Utah Hospital, and decide whether or not you should go to the E.R. or not for this particular condition. My kid drank some drain cleaner. E.R. or not?

Dr. Madsen: E.R. Absolutely.

Interviewer: No hesitation.

Dr. Madsen: Without hesitation. Drain cleaner is bad.

Interviewer: Okay.

Dr. Madsen: Most drain cleaners are an alkaline, meaning that they have a very high ph. So, if you look at pH levels, acids are very low. They can cause horrible damage. You get that drain cleaner in your esophagus, in the food tube that leads down to your stomach, and that's just going to chew right through that.
That can lead to immediate issues, just major problems and death immediately or potentially a very slow death where you basically have the acid in your stomach working its way up there and then going out the holes that that's created in the esophagus. It's awful.

Absolutely. Drain cleaner, get to the E.R.. One resource that's always available if you ever have any questions is the Poison Control Center. Give them a call and they can tell you exactly what to be concerned about and may even have some suggestions for what you could do immediately at home before going to the E.R. to potentially stop that process of eroding away in there.

Interviewer: This sounds like a 9-1-1 call.

Dr. Madsen: It is. Yeah. This is something, drain cleaner . . .

Interviewer: You're not driving the kid.

Dr. Madsen: No. Yeah, I would get there very quickly.

Announcer: We're your daily dose of science, conversation and medicine. This is The Scope, University of Utah Health Sciences radio.