Twenty-year-old Divya (name changed) from Tiruvallur district was rushed to the Government General Hospital with severe breathing difficulty.
The class 10 passout, who had a financial problem at home, had consumed 10 ml of black hair dye which her parents were using, and was admitted to the hospital with a swollen face, tongue and wind pipe.
Doctors swung into action and after stabilising her vital organs, made an opening in her throat with the help of ENT experts for an airway and put her on ventilator. Divya spent the next 25 days in hospital and luckily survived after undergoing treatment for internal bleeding and mild renal failure.
And Divya is not the only one to try out hair dye for suicide. There are many such youngsters, say doctors. Though pesticides are commonly used in suicide attempts, young people from economically weaker sections in urban areas, especially, women consume hair dye, as they are easily accessible.
Medical experts say that at least three cases of hair dye poisoning are reported in city hospitals every week.
Doctors at the Toxicology Department at the Madras Medical College attached to the Rajiv Gandhi Government General Hospital, said that hair dyes including those that are ammonia based have basic constituents like paraphenylene diamine (PPD), resorcinol and other solvents that are toxic. They say that a person consuming hair dye would either suffer angioneurotic edema, where they end up having swollen lips, eyes, face up to the upper airway. The swelled upper airway causes obstruction and the person would eventually suffer respiratory problems and would even collapse if not treated immediately.
Apart from respiratory failure, doctors add that the toxic component in hair dye could also cause accumulation of acid in the body ending up with a metabolic acidosis. “Hair dye could also cause acute renal failure among others. Even in herbal hair dye, such toxic components are present but the combination could be less. It can cause allergy for some when it is applied on the hair, that is why the dye packs carry information to conduct a patch test first before applying,” says Dr S Ragunandanan, in charge of toxicology ward at RGGGH.
The doctor further says that generally majority of the cases of intentional poisoning are those aged between 15 and 30, who take an impulsive decision after parents rebuke, inability to handle academic pressure or marital discord.
“Though many patients do not tell us the truth, some simply claim they attempted suicide as they suffered acute stomach pain. However, we conduct counselling for all these patients to make sure they don’t repeat it,” the doctor says and adds that his department has treated a five-month pregnant woman, who consumed hair dye.
Years back, inmates in Sri Lankan refugee camps in the state reportedly often consumed hair dye to commit suicide as a sign of protestdue to unavailibility of pesticides in shops, city doctors recall. Even debt-ridden farmers in Andhra Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh committed suicide by orally taking such dyes. At one point, media reported that sale of cheap variety of hair dye was banned in the northern parts of the country as farmers in drought-hit region of UP were found drinking it. Outside the country, hair dye poisoning is prevalent in African countries like Sudan and Morocco.
“In places like Madurai, the number of cases is more. Even 2 ml of hair dye could cause death within minutes if not treated as early as possible,” a doctor with the toxic ward warns.