Also known as caustic soda, sodium hydroxide has a multitude of uses. Effective for cleaning, it’s often a main component of drain cleaners and oven degreasers. When mixed into a solution (lye), it’s also an important part of cold process soapmaking, reacting with oils present to undergo the saponification process. It’s a strongly alkaline substance that has the potential to be corrosive and cause chemical burns, and can be found in a number of solid forms, including as flakes, crystal or chips.
Sodium hydroxide is also used in a variety of pharmaceutical products, and for fuel cell production in the energy industry. In the water and food industries it has various applications, including as water treatments and curing, respectively. You’ll also find Sodium hydroxide used in the textile industry, as well as in the treatment of wood and paper products.
In addition to it’s applications in cleaning and soap making, Sodium hydroxide is also used in a variety of pharmaceutical products, and for fuel cell production in the energy industry. In the water and food industries it has various applications, including as water treatments and curing, respectively. You’ll also find Sodium hydroxide used in the textile industry, as well as in the treatment of wood and paper products.
Sodium hydroxide has a number of acute and chronic health effects, mainly affecting the respiratory and intergumentary (skin, hair, nails, and exocrine organs) systems.
The main routes of exposure to sodium hydroxide are through skin and eye contact, and there is potential exposure to sodium hydroxide dust through inhalation. Higher levels of sodium hydroxide in the air are found nearer the ground, so this means that children are potentially more likely to exposed to higher rates than adults because they are closer to the higher source.
Acute exposure from skin contact to sodium hydroxide can result in red, burning, blistering and painful skin, which can lead to permanent scarring. It’s also important to note that the burns from the chemical might be delayed. Acute contact to sodium hydroxide through the eyes can result in swelling, pain, blurred vision and redness in the eye. It can also cause permanent blindness. Swallowing sodium hydroxide can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and death.
Chronic exposure to sodium hydroxide is toxic to multiple body systems. If you’re exposed to the chemical long term, dermatitis, erosion of the teeth, and inflammatory and ulcerative changes in the mouth can occur. It can also result in long-term breathing difficulties, and repeated exposure to high dust concentrations could result in changes to lung function. Chronic exposure to the chemical can also lead to regularly experiencing bronchial pneumonia, and bronchial irritations with a cough.
If you’ve swallowed sodium hydroxide, contact a medical professional immediately. It’s vital not to induce vomiting in someone who has ingested sodium hydroxide, and if they do spew, place them in a recovery position. If the person is conscious (and not showing signs of signs of sleepiness), then you can give them some water to rinse out their mouth. They are then allowed to drink it slowly—and as much as they can comfortably drink.
If you’ve gotten sodium hydroxide on your skin, remove all contaminated clothing, footwear and accessories. Don’t re-wear clothing until it has been thoroughly cleaned and decontaminated. Immediately rinse affected areas with plenty of water. Contact a doctor immediately.
Gotten sodium hydroxide in your eyes? Flush them out (including under the eyelids), with water for at least 15 minutes. Removal of contact lenses should only be done by skilled personnel. You should also contact a medical professional immediately.
If someone has inhaled sodium hydroxide, take them away from the contaminated area to the nearest fresh air source and monitor their breathing. If they have any dental prosthesis that could block the airway, such as false teeth, these should be removed. Keep them warm, and if they’re not breathing, and you are qualified, you may perform CPR with a one-way valve or protective mask. Immediately contact a medical professional.