Man Took Bleach Tablet Instead of Headache Pill and It Nearly Destroyed His Vocal Chords

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A man mistook a bleach tablet for a headache pill. Getty Images

A man who tried to treat his headache with a painkiller was unexpectedly hospitalized for weeks when he accidentally swallowed a bleach tablet.

The unnamed 65-year-old man in Switzerland was suffering from a headache and searched for a paracetamol tablet near the kitchen sink. But, confused by the pain, he mistakenly washed down a 3.5 gram tablet of sodium hydroxide, which is corrosive to the esophagus and stomach.

Immediately, his mouth and throat started burning and he began to cough uncontrollably, bringing up part of the tablet. He rushed to the hospital, and told doctors it was painful to swallow as his voice started to fade. Six hours later, his voice stopped working.

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An image of the man's throat showing his vocal chords dying away. BMJ

Doctors discovered the dangerous substance had started to kill part of the throat where the vocal cords is positioned, and his voice box started to swell. The physicians pumped the man with steroids, and were forced to fit a tracheotomy to his throat to help him breathe.

A proton pump inhibitor medication was used to reduce the levels of acid in his stomach. The patient was monitored in intensive care for two weeks before he was allowed to return home. Eventually, he was able to eat solid foods again.

"I was drowsy, my throat was painful and I could not really talk anymore," the patient said in the case study report.

Illustrating the urgency of his condition, he said: "I remember that I needed to urinate but it was denied to me because 'there was no time'."

"I don't have any more memories from this moment and until I got out of [a] coma weeks later."

The case study published in the BMJ is far from an isolated case—but it is believed to be one of the few examples of a person ingesting sodium hydroxide in tablet form, according to the authors.

As many as 5,000 cases of individuals ingesting caustic substances—both accidentally and voluntarily—are reported in the U.S. alone each year. Sodium hydroxide is one of the most common agents.

Due to its corrosive properties, sodium hydroxide is used in products such as drain cleaner, soaps and detergents. In the right concentrations it can be powerful enough to dissolve a human body in just three hours.