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Potassium hydroxide, also known as potassium hydrate and caustic potash, is a strong alkaline chemical available in pellets and flakes 12. With the chemical formula KOH, potassium hydroxide is one of the compounds people call lye 12. Potassium hydroxide is included in cleaning products, and has uses in industry and in medical diagnostics 12. It also has a role as an alternative health product.
Some dermatologists use potassium hydroxide to diagnose fungal infections in skin, hair and nails 124. For skin infections, laboratory personnel mount a skin scraping and apply potassium hydroxide to dissolve the epidermal cells and expose the fungal structure, explains an article in the "Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology." The authors note that potassium hydroxide is more reliable than lab cultures for identifying the presence of fungi that cause skin disease 123.
What Is Potassium Dichromate?
Potassium hydroxide has very high alkalinity as measured on the pH scale 12. This scale goes from 0 to 14 and defines the acidity or alkalinity of a substance, with 7 being neutral, and alkaline being higher than 7. Pure distilled water has a pH of 7. Potassium hydroxide has a pH of 12 to 14 123. Compare this to ammonia at 10 to 11, and borax at 9.
Some people believe that alkaline water is best for health. Advocates claim that drinking alkaline water is beneficial for health because disease and aging result from excess acid accumulation in the body 5. Alkaline water supposedly neutralizes this acidity. Commercial liquid products are available with highly diluted potassium hydroxide that change regular drinking water into strong alkaline water, similar to the pH level created with a water ionizer 12. You add drops of the solution as directed to drinking water. The theory behind drinking alkaline water for health is pseudoscience, according to chemist Stephen Lower, retired faculty member of Simon Fraser University.
- Some people believe that alkaline water is best for health.
- The theory behind drinking alkaline water for health is pseudoscience, according to chemist Stephen Lower, retired faculty member of Simon Fraser University.
PH Effects on Skin
Potassium hydroxide pellets and flakes are considered poisonous, and combining the chemical compound with water or other moisture turns it into a caustic substance 12. Swallowing potassium hydroxide can have severe and even life-threatening effects, as noted by MedlinePlus 12. It may result in burns to the mouth, throat, esophagus and stomach; severe mouth, throat and abdominal pain; diarrhea; throat swelling shut; and a swift drop in blood pressure, which is a symptom of a shock reaction.
MedlinePlus notes that immediate medical attention is needed if you or anyone you know has swallowed potassium hydroxide 12. Recovery depends on how quickly treatment is received. Flush away any of the chemical compound from the skin with lots of water. Do not make the affected person vomit unless medical personnel tells you to do so. Medical treatment may include breathing support, a breathing tube, intravenous fluids and pain-relieving medication.
- MedlinePlus notes that immediate medical attention is needed if you or anyone you know has swallowed potassium hydroxide 1.
What Is Potassium Dichromate?
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- Chemical Land 21: Potassium Hydroxide
- MedlinePlus: Potassium Hydroxide Poisoning
- "Indian Journal of Dermatology, Venereology and Leprology"; Skin Scraping and a Potassium Hydroxide Mount; Sachin M. Kurade, Sangeeta A. Amladi, Autar K Miskeen; 2006
- University of Utah: Potassium Hydroxide to Expose Fungal Hyphae
- Chem1.com: Ionized and Alkaline Water
- Potassium. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health
- Lambert H, Frassetto L, Moore JB, et al. The effect of supplementation with alkaline potassium salts on bone metabolism: a meta-analysis. Osteoporos Int. 2015;26(4):1311-8. doi:+10.1007/s00198-014-3006-9
- Chatterjee R, Slentz C, Davenport CA, et al. Effects of potassium supplements on glucose metabolism in African Americans with prediabetes: a pilot trial. Am J Clin Nutr. 2017;106(6):1431-1438. doi:10.3945/ajcn.117.161570
- Potassium. Fact Sheet for Consumers. Office of Dietary Supplements. National Institutes of Health
- Health Claim Notification for Potassium Containing Foods. US Food and Drug Administration
- Aburto NJ, Hanson S, Gutierrez H, Hooper L, Elliott P, Cappuccio FP. Effect of increased potassium intake on cardiovascular risk factors and disease: systematic review and meta-analyses. BMJ 2013;346:f1378.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. What Is Potassium?
- ConsumerLab.com. Potassium Supplements Review.
- Curhan GC, Willett WC, Rimm EB, Stampfer MJ. A prospective study of dietary calcium and other nutrients and the risk of symptomatic kidney stones. N Engl J Med 1993;328:833-8.
- Curhan GC, Willett WC, Speizer FE, Spiegelman D, Stampfer MJ. Comparison of dietary calcium with supplemental calcium and other nutrients as factors affecting the risk for kidney stones in women. Ann Intern Med 1997;126:497-504.
- D’Elia L, Barba G, Cappuccio FP, Strazzullo P. Potassium intake, stroke, and cardiovascular disease a meta-analysis of prospective studies. J Am Coll Cardiol 2011;57:1210-9.
- O’Neil C, Keast D, Fulgoni V, and Nicklas T. Food sources of energy and nutrients among adults in the US: NHANES 2003-2006. Nutrients. 2012;4:2097-120. DOI: 10.3390/nu4122097.
- Stone M, Martyn L, and Weaver C. Potassium intake, bioavailability, hypertension, and glucose control. Nutrients. 2016;8: E444. DOI: 10.3390/nu8070444.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Health Claim Notification for Potassium Containing Foods.
- Weaver CM. Potassium and health. Adv Nutr 2013;4:368S-77S.
- Yong Sun, et al. Dietary potassium regulates vascular calcification and arterial stiffness. JCI Insight. 2017;2(19):e94920.
Shelley Moore is a journalist and award-winning short-story writer. She specializes in writing about personal development, health, careers and personal finance. Moore has been published in "Family Circle" magazine and the "Milwaukee Sentinel" newspaper, along with numerous other national and regional magazines, daily and weekly newspapers and corporate publications. She has a Bachelor of Science in psychology.