Despite the widely publicized observations/opinions that common disinfectant(s) might be used as medicines to treat patients with COVID-19, it is important to remember that household and institutional cleaning products all contain products that are potentially very dangerous.

Simply put, ingesting, inhaling or injecting any cleaning product is extremely hazardous and can cause severe pain, serious and permanent injury, and even death.

When used properly, products like Lysol, Windex, Fantastik, are very effective at killing germs that can cause infection — including bacteria, viruses (like COVID-19), and yeasts/ fungi — on surfaces like counters, railings and door handles.

Regular cleaning of surfaces with these products can reduce the likelihood of picking up a virus or bacteria that could make you or a loved one sick, so it’s a good idea to use them — as directed by the manufacturer.

Using cleaning products as medication, however, is not safe. Research on this topic has documented hundreds of accidental or intentional poisoning cases worldwide, demonstrating conclusively that the compounds found in cleaning products are extremely hazardous. Accidental poisoning is a leading cause of death in all age groups; toddlers and small children are especially susceptible to poisoning by cosmetic agents and/or cleaning products.

Products like Lysol include Quaternary Ammonium Compounds (QACs), like alkyl dimethyl benzyl ammonium chlorides. These are considered safer than many older cleaning compounds. However, even when used properly, these chemicals can cause contact dermatitis (redness, itching and even blistering of the skin), shortness of breath and wheezing. When accidentally splashed into the eyes or mouth, it can cause severe eye pain and injury (which can be permanent), and pain, burning and ulceration in the mouth. If swallowed, QACs cause caustic burns to the mouth, throat, esophagus and GI tract that can result in bleeding, inflammation and swelling that can be life-threatening.

Ingestion of bleach can cause severe burns to the mouth and throat. Exposure causes shortness of breath and wheezing, which result from injury to the cells in the bronchi (airways) and alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. Patients can develop pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs) and in severe cases, ARDS (Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome). Mixing bleach with other cleaning solutions (like Windex) should never be done, as this can produce chlorine gas.

Injection of bleach is also extremely dangerous. Case studies describe acute kidney failure, causing black urine, followed by anuria (an inability to urinate) requiring dialysis in some patients.

Ammonia that is found in common glass and household cleaners may cause a burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat. When inhaled, it can cause vomiting, liver injury, kidney damage and hemolysis (rupturing of red blood cells).

It is frustrating and scary to deal with a pandemic caused by a virus for which we have no cure, has caused widespread infection, and has already caused thousands of deaths worldwide. Proposed tests, treatments and cures seem to surface daily on the internet, radio and television, and may seem logical and tempting to try. No matter what you may hear or read, you should never take or use a medicine that was not prescribed to you, or use a supplement, chemical or device to treat yourself without first consulting your doctor.

This week’s Health Talk column was written by Dr. Todd Gregory, Rutland Regional Medical Center Emergency Department Medical Director.

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