Ethylene Glycol (Antifreeze)

What is it?
First Aid

What is ethylene glycol?

Ethylene glycol is a poisonous chemical that is the main ingredient in most antifreeze products.

Ethylene glycol is very harmful if you swallow it. Young children—or even adults—sometimes swallow antifreeze when it gets spilled or when it is not stored properly, such as keeping it in a soda bottle or another drink container.

Adults sometimes get it in their eyes while working on cars, boats or other vehicles.

Animals may also lick up spilled antifreeze because of its sweet taste.

What are the symptoms of ethylene glycol poisoning?

Someone who swallows ethylene glycol can have serious health problems. Symptoms can be similar to those you would get from drinking too much alcohol. You may feel sick to your stomach, throw up and feel very drunk. These symptoms may take a while to appear. 

Some people will become very sick, have back pain and be unable to pee for days. They may need dialysis.

Someone with severe ethylene glycol poisoning may:

  • Breathe too fast
  • Have an irregular heartbeat
  • Have a seizure
  • Go into a coma, or even die

If someone gets ethylene glycol in their eyes, it is not as serious, but they may have stinging, burning and watering.

Ethylene glycol can be very dangerous for pets who lick or swallow it. They can have symptoms similar to the ones humans would have.

What should I do if someone has swallowed ethylene glycol?

If someone has swallowed ethylene glycol, do not wait for symptoms. Contact the poison center right away—call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

If someone has passed out or is not breathing, call 911 right away.

What should I do if someone has gotten ethylene glycol in their eyes?

If someone has gotten ethylene glycol in their eye, flush the eye with warm water for 10-15 minutes. The poison center will help you flush the person’s eye in the right way. Call 1-800-222-1222, chat online or text POISON to 85511.

What should I do if a pet has swallowed ethylene glycol?

If your pet licks or swallows some ethylene glycol, call your veterinarian right away.

How can I prevent ethylene glycol poisoning?

To help prevent ethylene glycol poisoning, keep antifreeze and other ethylene glycol products in their original containers and store them up high, out of the reach of children and pets.

Last Updated: Thursday May 5th 2016