A young patient was seen by a pediatrician and upon examination, it was found that the boy’s right eye was corroded with alkaline fluid. The surface of the eye had melted, resulting in permanent loss of sight. It was beyond repair. The parents were heartbroken and blamed themselves for it. The cause of the sad accident was the desiccant found in packaging of everyday products to keep them free from moisture.
The child was a second grader and had just gotten a good report card. To reward him for his effort and hard work, the mother bought some of his favorite snacks from the supermarket. While he was enjoying them and watching TV, the mother was busy preparing dinner.
After 15 minutes, she heard a painful scream from the child. When she checked on him, he was crying and rolling around on the floor covering his eyes. A twisted plastic drink bottle was on the floor and its contents were everywhere.
The doctor’s diagnosis was like a clap of thunder to the mother. Looking at her child’s devastated condition, she collapsed onto the floor and could not even bring herself to cry.
When asked how it happened, the boy said he saw a small packet in the bag after finishing the snack. Trying to figure out what it was, he took it out and smelt it. Then for fun he put it into a drink bottle. The instant he put it in, the bottle exploded. He felt something spit into his right eye. The eye felt like it was burning and he could not see anything anymore.
The packet the boy mentioned was desiccant.
The mother deeply regretted her ignorance and carelessness. She knew desiccant was not edible but she never imagined that it could be that dangerous and could cause such serious harm.
Why desiccant can explode
Some media have done tests on desiccant’s destructive power. They put a bag of desiccant into a plastic water bottle, added water, and sealed it. About a minute later, the bottle exploded and the cap flew over 12 feet away.
Desiccant is often of the following types: quicklime, silica gel, montmorillonite clay, and calcium sulfate.
Most food products use quicklime as the desiccant. Food science experts explain that such a type of desiccant is mainly composed of calcium oxide, which reacts with water to produce calcium hydroxide and releases a large amount of heat during the process. The desiccant in the packet remains stable because the water content inside is low.
However, if put into a full water bottle which is normally wide in body and small at the mouth and relatively enclosed, it can cause the air inside to expand rapidly. When the pressure is more than the bottle can hold, it results in an explosion. The calcium hydroxide inside is a strong corrosive alkaline fluid. As it flies everywhere under pressure during the explosion, it can cause different degrees of damage to the human body. Experts warn that this kind of corrosive fluid is especially harmful to the eyes because its damage to the cornea is devastating.
Due to its remarkable moisture-absorbing function and low cost, quicklime is widely used in daily life for different types of products to maintain their condition once packaged, including food, drugs, medical and health care items, clothing, fabrics, tea, leather goods, bags, shoes, and electrical appliances and equipment.
Since desiccant can be found almost anywhere, exercise caution if you have young children at home. Make sure they stay away from desiccant, the quicklime type in particular, and that you store it in a safe place far out of their reach.
First aid treatment
If any desiccant of the quicklime variety comes into contact with the skin, rinse the affected area with water continuously for at least 15 minutes. Then go to the hospital immediately.
If the eye is affected, don’t wait to get treatment at the hospital. Immediately rinse the eye with water and continue for at least 30 minutes. Make sure to pay attention to turning the eyes as you rinse. When the pain or discomfort is not as acute, go to a nearby hospital at once.
If eaten, the desiccant can burn the digestive tract. Drink water to dilute the lye in the proportion of one ounce for every pound of body weight with a total not over 3/4 of a cup (roughly 6.6 ounces). Then drink milk, water mixed with raw egg, olive oil, or another plant oil to protect the wounded surface from further corrosion.
For desiccant made from silica gel, it is usually in the form of little beads. These beads are typically used with textiles or leather goods to keep them free from moisture. The dangers of silica beads are less than with other types of desiccants. However, there is a risk of choking if these beads are consumed.
In all cases involving desiccant, it is recommended to seek medical advice or call an ambulance immediately.