Petroleum jelly overdose

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Definition

Petroleum jelly is a semisolid mixture of fatty substances that are made from petroleum. A common brand name is Vaseline. This article discusses what happens when someone swallows a lot of petroleum jelly or it gets in their eyes.

This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual overdose. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual overdose. If you or someone you are with overdoses, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Alternative Names

Vaseline overdose

Poisonous Ingredient

Petroleum jelly (petrolatum) can be harmful if someone swallows it or it gets in their eyes.

Where Found

Petroleum jelly is used in:

  • Some skin care products (including Vaseline)
  • Some eye lubricant ointments

Other products may also contain petroleum jelly.

Symptoms

These symptoms may occur from swallowing a large amount of petroleum jelly:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Coughing
  • Diarrhea
  • Irritation of the throat
  • Shortness of breath

If a large amount of petroleum jelly gets in the eyes or nose, or is used on the skin, the eyes, nose, or skin may become irritated.

Home Care

Stop using the product.

Do NOT make a person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to. Inhaling the substance during vomiting can lead to severe problems.

If the product is in the eyes, flush with large amounts of water for at least 15 minutes.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed or used
  • Amount swallowed or used

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible. 

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Intravenous fluids (given through a vein)
  • Laxative
  • Medicine to treat symptoms 
  • Skin and eye washing if the product touched these tissues and they became irritated or swollen

Outlook (Prognosis)

Petroleum jelly is considered nontoxic. Recovery is likely.

References

Napoli AM, Krauss B. Monitoring the emergency patient. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Sanders; 2014:chap 5.

Shannon MW. Emergency Management of Poisoning. In: Shannon, MW, Borron, SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 2.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 10/9/2015
  • Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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