A Swiss man's headache turned into something much worse when he accidentally swallowed a bleach tablet instead of a pain reliever, according to a new report of the case.
The tablet mix-up landed the man in the hospital for weeks, during which he lost his voice and the tissue in his throat started to die, the report said.
The accident happened when the 65-year-old man, seeking relief from his headache, reached for what he thought was an acetaminophen (the active ingredient in Tylenol) tablet near his kitchen sink.
Confused by his headache pain, however, he accidentally swallowed a 3.5-gram (0.12 ounces) bleach tablet, followed by a glass of water, according to the report, written by doctors at Geneva University Hospitals in Switzerland.
Immediately, the man felt a burning sensation in his mouth and throat. He managed to cough up part of the tablet. But he still had pain while swallowing and difficulty speaking, so he went to the emergency room. [27 Oddest Medical Cases]
At the hospital, the man's throat pain initially improved after he was given an opioid painkiller. But 6 hours later, the man's condition worsened — he had difficulty breathing and severe throat pain, and he lost his voice.
"I was drowsy, my throat was painful and I could not really talk anymore," the patient, whose identity was not revealed, is quoted as saying in the report, published in the June 21 issue of the journal BMJ Case Reports. "I remember that I needed to urinate, but it was denied to me because 'there was no time.'"
An examination of the man's throat revealed that tissue above his vocal chords had started to die, or necrotize, and there was swelling in his larynx, or voice box.
The man needed a tracheostomy, or a surgically made hole in his windpipe, to help him breathe. He was also treated with steroids and a proton pump inhibitor, which is a medication that reduces stomach acid. The man also developed a lung infection while in the hospital, which required antibiotics.
After the man spent about two weeks in intensive care, his throat had healed enough to allow doctors to remove the breathing tube, and he was sent home. At first, the man could eat only "smooth" (pureed) foods, but eventually, he was able to eat solid foods again.
Ingestion of "caustic," or corrosive, cleaning chemicals is relatively common, with an estimated 200,000 cases reported in the United States each year, according to Medscape. However, most often when bleach is ingested accidentally, it's in the liquid form, while reports of people swallowing bleach in tablet form are rare, the new report said.
The new case underscores "the importance of appropriate storage for medications and cleaning products," the researchers concluded.
Original article on Live Science.
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Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.