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Dos and Don'ts in Case of Gasoline Poisoning

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Dos and Don'ts in Case of Gasoline Poisoning

Feb 17, 2021

The University of Utah Poison Control Center speaks with people who accidentally swallow gasoline almost daily. But poison specialist Brad Dahl says it’s what many people do afterward that is most dangerous. He talks about what should be done if you swallow gasoline or get it on your eyes or skin.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: Let's say you accidentally swallow a mouthful of gasoline, how dangerous is that?

Today we're talking with Brad Dahl who's a poison specialist at the University of Utah Poison Control Center. Well, tell us what you think Brad, how dangerous is gasoline?

The Dangers of Consuming Gasoline

Brad Dahl: Well that's an excellent question because we see people accidentally swallowing gasoline all the time, I mean it's a daily occurrence here in Utah and the important thing to know is that if you swallow gasoline and it goes down to your stomach, it's really not that big of a deal, other than you're going to be burping gasoline for about 24 hours, that's not real tasty, but it will keep going, it's not absorbed very well in your gut. But most peoples initial instinct is I have to get it out and that's the wrong thing to do because where it is dangerous is if even a tiny drop gets into your lungs, that' can be very dangerous because it spreads out and it coats the lungs and it really hurts the tissue in there and it makes it difficult to breath, so we do not want it in your lungs.

Interviewer: So in the poison control center, what kind of scenarios do you hear from people when they call with a potential gasoline poisoning issue?

Brad Dahl: Well the most common thing is when somebody is siphoning gasoline and again with the price of gas being so expensive now, we have people, you know, it's easier to take it out of one vehicle to put it in another rather than go buy some more, so they'll be siphoning it and then as they're sucking on that tube some seems to get in their mouth, and then they accidentally swallow it after that.

Interviewer: And how much are they typically swallowing, is it just a mouthful or is it more than that?

Brad Dahl: It's usually just a mouth full and typically it's less than that. Some people try to spit it out but almost everybody I talk to says they swallow some of it.

Interviewer: So it's not that dangerous if you get a mouthful?

Brad Dahl: No, even two mouthfuls wouldn't be that dangerous as long as it goes down to your stomach and stays there or keeps going.

Rinsing Gasoline from Your Eyes

Interviewer: Now what about if you're filling up your lawn mower or something and the gasoline splashes up into your eye?

Brad Dahl: That really hurts, so you want to get it out of your eye as soon as possible and the best way to do it is with warm water, not cold water because cold water feels better in the eye because it numbs it but it won't move it along very well because gasoline doesn't like water and if it doesn't mix very well, so you want to, you know, just flush it nice and gentle through your eyes, as long as it takes to get it out, once your eyes are feeling better, you're done.

Interviewer: And what about fumes from gasoline, any danger from those?

Brad Dahl: Yeah, yeah, if you inhale enough fumes from gasoline, I mean certainly it can cause you to be a little bit impaired and not feeling good. It can cause headache and nausea and dizziness, those are the most common things, but as far as life threatening problems, usually not that big of a deal.

Interviewer: Brad, are there different considerations when it comes to kids, if they get some gasoline in their mouth or something?

Brad Dahl: Well it's the same risk so you want it to go down to the stomach and I know the initial feeling for a lot of parents is, I have to make them throw up and that's the absolute wrong thing to do because that's the easiest way to get it into the lungs. So if they've swallowed it you need it to keep going, so it's a good idea to give them something to drink, just a couple of sips of something that tastes good will do it and also, if it stays in contact with your skin or the tissue in your mouth or your throat for very long, it will make it very sore and will cause a chemical burn, so you want to get it off of there and again, it's okay to push it to the stomach, don't worry about getting it out.

The Dangers of Gasoline inside Your Ear

Interviewer: So Brad are there any other risks with gasoline?

Brad Dahl: Yeah, one thing we see a lot is that people working on their cars in the garage and they're lying underneath here and they're messing around with hoses and that, that sometimes that gasoline will drip and sometimes it will go in their ears and boy when that gets inside your ear it is really, really painful and again the problem there now is how do I get it out of my ear safely, it's very difficult to do. You want to do it with warm water and it's okay to use a little bit of detergent but you don't want to use any pressure, so you don't want to be flushing it aggressively. Most of the time the best thing to do is to have a doctor do that and rinse it out, so that way you don't hurt your ear, but you do need to get it out because that can cause some real significant damage inside your ear.

Interviewer: So where would you go to get this out? Let's say you get gasoline in your ear or you swallow it.

Brad Dahl: Well any doctors office can deal with something like that or any kind of clinic that does emergency type services is fine. I would save the emergency room for a last resort, everything else is closed kind of situation, but I would definitely try to rinse it with warm water at home, maybe like I said, with a little mild soap but, again, you want to be very careful rinsing it, you don't want to put any pressure into the ears.

Interviewer: With just swallowing or a kid getting it all over themselves, if there's any worries is it okay for the parents to just go ahead and call the Poison Control Center?

Brad Dahl: Well they should do that first. You should always call the Utah Poison Center when your child gets into something and we'll help you with it right away. We'll answer the phone, we'll talk to you, we'll ask you some quick questions and a lot of the time it's the quickness that really makes things better. So if you call us first, we can help you right away, we can make sure you do things appropriately, rather than trying to fix things that you did wrong. And that number is 1-800-222-1222 and that's a nationwide number, you can call it anywhere in the United States or U.S. Territory and you'll get a poison control center.

updated: February 17, 2021
originally published: June 24, 2014