Objective: The objective of this study was to analyze the circumstance, demographic features, clinical findings, and complications of caustic ingestion in relation to the type and amount of caustic substance.
Study design: The authors conducted a retrospective cohort study in a tertiary medical center.
Methods: The authors reviewed medical records from 1988 to 2003 of patients with a history of caustic ingestion and clinical signs of injury to the aerodigestive tract. Parameters examined included age at presentation, gender, demographic status, nature of the caustic substance ingested, amount of substance, circumstance of the event, diagnostic tools, degree of injury, and anatomic distribution of the injury, early and late complications, and requirement for ventilatory support.
Results: A total of 50 cases of caustic ingestion were identified (age range, 5 months-71 years). A biphasic distribution of the patients was noted; half were children under 5 years old and the remainder was adults. The most common caustic agent ingested was alkaline (42%) followed by acidic (32%) and chlorine bleach (26%). The most frequent cause for ingestion was accidental (67%) as opposed to attempt suicide (33%). All cases of attempted suicide occurred in adults. Most of them reported ingestion of large amounts of caustic substance. In the pediatric group, an association between the caustic agent and ethnicity was observed. Among Jewish children, alkaline cleaning agents were the most common cause (82%). Acetic acid was the most common substance ingested by the Arab children (100%). The findings of rigid esophagoscopy in 36 patients were as follows: first-degree esophageal injury in 16 (44%), second-degree in 6 (17%), third-degree in 7 (19%), fourth-degree in 6 (17%), and one (3%) was normal. Mucosal injury to the esophagus was worse in the acidic ingestion group as compared with the alkaline substance ingestion group with marginally statistically significant difference in the median degree of injury between the three types of ingested substances (P = .054). Mucosal injury to the esophagus was worse among patients who attempted suicide as compared with accidental ingestion with a statistically significant difference in the median degree of injury between the two reasons for ingestion (P = .002).
Conclusion: Severity of injury from caustic ingestion damages depend on the type of ingested substance, which varies depending on ethnicity. Ingestion of caustic agents by children involves specific substances according to the season, cultural and religious festivals, and ethnicity. The majority of adult cases are intentional with more serious injuries and a higher rate of complications. In our series, ingestion of acidic substances and ingestion associated with suicide attempt had the most severe consequences.