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No Relaxing Around These Hair Products

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Other products that can cause alkaline burns include bleach, oven cleaners, and toilet cleaners.

Scarring is the ultimate outcome of an alkaline burn, and small areas of scar tissue can be surgically removed. But drug treatment for these burns is still somewhat hit-or-miss. "Drug therapy is a little bit controversial, whether you give them steroids or antibiotics," Wasserman says. "Steroids interfere with scar formation ... but they can subject the patient to infection."

As for immediate home treatment of a child who has swallowed an alkaline solution, Wasserman says there is one main thing to remember: "If they're not choking, give a drink of milk or water. If they are, don't." The main worry is that the child might take into the lungs any additional fluid they can't swallow. That could set up a dangerous, and even fatal, form of pneumonia.

But as with any home poisoning, before doing anything, parents should contact the local poison control center.

Upon arriving at the emergency room, it may seem to parents as if the doctors aren't really doing much to a child who has swallowed these substances. Their first goal is to make sure the child is not in an immediately life-threatening situation that might require him to be put on a ventilator or other such measures. After that, doctors will try to perform a procedure called endoscopy, in which a specialist puts a camera down the child's esophagus to see the extent of the burns. Further treatment will depend on what the specialist sees there.

One hair stylist was surprised to hear that relaxers have severely burned children. Nicole Cumberlander, owner of Noire Et Blanc Salon and Spa in Cleveland, says she's gone up to 20 minutes with relaxer on her hands and suffered no ill effects.

Still, she thinks "do-it-yourself relaxing" is a bad idea: "I'm a licensed stylist, and I don't even relax my own hair. There's no way you can do it yourself and get good results. ... And take it a step further, dealing with the issue of children."

Vital Information:

  • Parents should take precautions to keep hair relaxers and other potentially dangerous household products away from children, because they can cause chemical burns if eaten or smeared on the skin.
  • If a child does accidentally swallow hair relaxer, call the poison control center and give him milk or water to drink if he is not choking.
  • Scarring can be the ultimate outcome of these chemical burns, and small areas of scar tissue can be surgically removed.

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