Chlorine poisoning takes place when the chemical chlorine is swallowed, inhaled, or otherwise internalized in the body. Used to prevent the growth of bacteria, chlorine is utilized as a commercial and industrial disinfectant, most commonly in swimming pools and water treatment facilities. Once it enters the body, chlorine becomes extremely corrosive and toxic, requiring immediate medical attention.
Often used in the production of pesticides, refrigerants, and cleaning and disinfecting products, chlorine is easily detectable by its pungent odor. Most instances of poisoning occur when chlorine powder is mixed with bleach, resulting in the release of chlorinated gas. Even when used in low concentrations, chlorine can have a devastating effect on individuals if used, stored, or handled improperly.
The ability of chlorine to form hydrochloric and hydrochlorus acid when it reacts with moisture is what makes it so dangerous. Chlorine exposure can occur through inhalation, ingestion, or through contact with the skin or mucus membranes. The route and duration of exposure play a critical role in diagnosis and treatment.
When inhaled, chlorine can instigate swelling of the throat and promote fluid buildup in the lungs, also known as pulmonary edema, which leads to breathing difficulty. Chlorine that is ingested will not only burn the throat and esophagus, but will result in severe abdominal pain and vomiting. Vision loss can occur if chlorine, in any pure form, is introduced to the eyes. If chlorine enters the blood stream through an opening in the skin, it can severely affect acid levels, known as pH, and damage internal organs. In other instances of exposure, when chlorine is internalized, blood pressure can plummet and an individual's circulatory system will become compromised and at risk of collapse.
In crisis situations, time is critical, so medical attention should be sought immediately following the confirmation of chlorine poisoning. An individual experiencing chlorine poisoning will become symptomatic within minutes of exposure. The severity of symptoms is dependent on a number of factors, including how the chlorine was introduced into the body, the amount and concentration, and the duration of exposure. Prior to seeking medical treatment, each of the above mentioned factors should be determined as well as the individual's weight, age, and time the exposure occurred.
During an initial medical examination, a health care provider documents and monitors the individual's blood pressure, respiration, temperature, and pulse. A diagnosis of chlorine poisoning is based primarily on a clinical examination and not laboratory testing. In cases of exposure via ingestion, a camera is inserted down the throat into the esophagus and stomach, a process known as endoscopy, to determine severity of damage. When inhalation exposure occurs, a bronchoscopy, a small camera inserted down the trachea, is employed to establish the extent of burns sustained in an individual's airways and lungs.
Treatment is determined by the route, severity, and duration of chlorine exposure. Treatment options for chlorine poisoning initially include the introduction of fluids to flush the system, in cases of ingestion; irrigation, the washing of exposed skin; and the administration of oxygen to aid with respiration. Critical cases of chlorine poisoning may require hospital admission for additional medical care.