Nitric acid: Can it cause poisoning?

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Nitric acid is a potent acid that can cause significant burns due to its highly corrosive nature. The acid is utilized in the manufacturing process of fertilizers, rocket propellants, textiles, plastics, laboratory reagents, industrial catalysts, etching and cleaning agents.

Ingestion or direct exposure to nitric acid can result to poisoning. Exposure might be accidental or intentional. The chemical might be swallowed or exposure via the skin or eyes. If the fumes of the chemical are inhaled, it can trigger respiratory issues.

What are the signs?

The symptoms tend to vary from minor to severe. The seriousness of the poisoning is based on the concentration of the acid and the amount ingested or inhaled.

The usual signs that might arise include the following:

  • Serious burns and pain in the throat, mouth and esophagus
    Nitric acid
    If the fumes of the chemical are inhaled, it can trigger respiratory issues.
  • Fever
  • Vomiting blood
  • Drooling from the mouth
  • Sudden drop in the blood pressure which results to shock
  • Vision loss
  • Inability to swallow or speak
  • Inflamed throat that can lead to respiratory issues

If skin exposure occurs, the signs generally include:

  • Serious burns on the skin and underlying tissues along with pain
  • Significant eye burns linked with loss of vision and discomfort

If the fumes of nitric acid are inhaled, the symptoms that might arise include:

  • Coughing and choking
  • Bluish tinge on the lips and under the fingernails
  • Chest pain and heaviness
  • Dizziness and weakness
  • Respiratory difficulties
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate
  • Collapse

Management of nitric acid poisoning

An individual who ingested nitric acid require prompt medical care. Call for emergency assistance right away or the poison control center. Important details such as the substance ingested, amount and time of ingestion must be provided as well as the age, weight and overall health of the individual so that further instructions can be given.

If the eye or skin was exposed to nitric acid, they must be thoroughly washed with large amounts of water for up to 15 minutes.

If the acid was ingested, provide water or milk to drink right away if instructed by a healthcare professional. If available, provide milk of magnesia. Do not attempt to induce vomiting unless instructed to do so. If the individual is vomiting or has reduced level of alertness, do not provide anything by mouth.

Once the individual is taken to the emergency department, further treatment might be started. If possible, bring the container or bottle along.

Quick Note / Disclaimer

The material posted on this page on nitric acid poisoning is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn how this type of poisoning is managed, register for a first aid and CPR course with Mississauga First Aid.

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