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Treating Personal Contamination


Topic Overview

Your skin can be contaminated by contact with dangerous chemicals, including some common household and lawn products; biological agents such as anthrax; or dust, dirt, or other substances that might contain radioactive fallout. In many cases, immediately removing all traces of the harmful substance from your skin can minimize any damage it may cause.

Watering or burning eyes and stinging or burning skin are signs that you may have been exposed to something harmful. If you know or suspect a hazardous exposure, take immediate action:

  1. Remove clothing, jewelry, eyeglasses, and other items in contact with the skin. Seal the items in a plastic bag, and then seal that bag inside a second plastic bag.
  2. If you wear contact lenses, wash your hands with soap and water, and then remove your contacts.
  3. Use water and soap to wash any areas that may have been contaminated—in some cases, this may mean your whole body. A shower works best, but you can also use water from a faucet, garden hose, or another source if a shower is not available. Flush eyes with lots of water. A faucet with a handheld sprayer works well.
  4. Put on clean, uncontaminated clothes if they are available.
  5. Call your local Poison Control Center or emergency services to find out what to do next. Further medical assistance may or may not be needed.

These are general guidelines for removing contaminants and are appropriate for many—but not all—hazardous substance exposures. Your local Poison Control Center or other local authorities may have more specific instructions for you depending on what you were exposed to, especially if there has been a community-wide exposure.

Related Information

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerChristine Hahn, MD - Epidemiology
Last RevisedApril 22, 2011

eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise

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