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Photographic fixative poisoning


Photographic fixatives are chemicals used to develop photographs.

This article discusses poisoning from swallowing such chemicals.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Alternative Names

Photographic developer poisoning; Hydroquinone poisoning; Quinone poisoning; Sulfite poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Hydroquinones
  • Quinones
  • Sodium thiosulfate
  • Sodium sulfite/bisulfite
  • Boric acid

Photographic fixative can also break down (decompose) to form sulfur dioxide gas.

Where Found

These chemicals are found in products used to develop photographs.


  • Abdominal pain
  • Burning pain in the throat
  • Blurred vision
  • Burning in the eye
  • Coma
  • Diarrhea (watery, bloody, green-blue colored)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Skin rash
  • Stupor (confusion, decreased level of consciousness)
  • Vomiting

Home Care

Seek immediate emergency medical help. Do NOT make the person throw up. Give water or milk unless the person is unconscious or having convulsions. Contact poison control for further help.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal so that the poison that remains does not absorb into the stomach and digestive tract
  • Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and stomach
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Laxatives to move the poison quickly through the body
  • Medications to treat symptoms
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on how much of the poison was swallowed and how quickly the person received medical help. Swallowing these products can cause severe effects in many parts of the body. The faster treatment is received, the greater the chance of recovery.


Kulig K. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 147.

Review Date: 
Reviewed By: 
Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.