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What Are the Different Types of Chlorhexidine Side Effects?

Tricia Christensen
Updated May 17, 2024
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Chlorhexidine side effects are diverse because this antiseptic is used in a variety of preparations. It is commonly found in certain mouth rinses, in soaps or surgical preparation liquids, and in solutions for contact lenses. Unless a person has a systemic reaction to the substance, such as anaphylactic shock, most reactions occur locally, where chlorhexidine comes into contact with the body. If an adverse effect occurs, mouth rinses tend to cause symptoms in the mouth, soaps result in skin reactions, and contact lens or eye surgical solutions are likely to affect the eyes.

Anyone with an allergy to this chemical may experience a systemic reaction to its use in any form. The signs of this rarest of chlorhexidine side effects include difficulty breathing and hives. Swelling of the mouth, face, and tongue are also common. These symptoms require immediate medical attention.

In other instances, chlorhexidine side effects tend to appear in the area where exposure occurs. Oral rinses, for example, have been noted for side effects like increased plaque, brown or black staining of the teeth, and sores in the mouth. Food and beverages might taste differently or adverse effects like a white tongue or bleeding gums might occur. Swallowing the mouth rinse, which is not advised, can also cause stomach symptoms like gastrointestinal upset and pain, or in rare cases, colitis.

Chlorhexidine side effects that are associated with skin contact often include rash. Some patients note burning or peeling skin. Alternately, repeated use could cause constant irritation or itch. Some people develop contact dermatitis from regular use and need to switch to a soap that lacks this ingredient. Animals can also have skin irritation from chlorhexidine because the chemical may be used to clean wounds in veterinary practice.

A number of eye surgeons use preparations with chlorhexidine to clean and prepare the eyes for surgery. These can be associated with a higher side effect risk because the chemical is present in greater amounts. Some adverse reactions associated with exposure include corneal ulcers, eye pain, or irritation and swelling of the conjunctiva, the mucous membrane covering the white of the eyes. In rare cases, damage to the eyes can necessitate corneal repair.

The amount of this chemical used in contact lens solutions is lower. Still, some experience chlorhexidine side effects, including eye pain or irritation of the eyes. If these symptoms continue, people are advised to speak with doctors or, at minimum, to switch to a contact lens solution that doesn’t contain chlorhexidine.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By golf07 — On Mar 13, 2012

@honeybees - I have learned to look at the labels and read any kind of medication information before I buy anything.

Sometimes this can almost scare you out of using a lot of products when you read about some of the side effects that can occur.

My dentist recommended I use a certain type of mouthwash to help prevent some plaque build up on my teeth. I developed tiny sores in my mouth after using this for about a week.

I never swallowed this, but knew something wasn't right as this had never happened to me before. I had some kind of negative reaction to the chlorhexidine in the mouthwash.

There are other products that don't have this in them, so now I always make sure before I try something new.

By honeybees — On Mar 12, 2012

I don't usually have side effects to medication, but once when I tried a different contact lens solution, my eyes became red and irritated.

I found out this was an allergic reaction to the chlorhexidine in the contact lens solution. I didn't even read the label before buying it. I just though all solutions were a basic saline solution and didn't think there would be any difference.

I don't know why I reacted the way I did, but don't have any problems when I use a solution that doesn't have this ingredient in it.

By SteamLouis — On Mar 11, 2012

We use chlorhexidine solution on our farm all the time. We dilute it with water and use it to clean udders of cows. We also use it sometimes as an antiseptic solution to clean cages and the like. It works really well and I have not noticed any negative side effects on any of our animals.

Perhaps the side effects might have to do with the percentage of chlorhexidine in the solution. When it's used as an antiseptic, I think it needs to be diluted so that it won't be too strong.

By turquoise — On Mar 10, 2012

@turkay1-- Yea, it can cause some stomach discomfort and some burning in the mouth if you gargle for too long and eat or drink right after.

When I use chlorhexidine gluconate mouthwash, I only gargle for thirty seconds and I try not to eat or drink for about thirty minutes. It sounds like you have a very sensitive stomach so it might be a good idea to gargle on a full stomach too. If your stomach is full, it might not get irritated so much from the chlorhexidine if you accidentally swallow some.

I think the best way to do it is to gargle with it at night, right before you go to sleep. That way, you know you won't be eating or drinking any of it unintentionally.

By candyquilt — On Mar 10, 2012

What are the side effects of swallowing chlorhexidine mouthwash remnants after gargling?

My dentist has prescribed a mouthwash with chlorhexidine for me. I've used it once but afterward, it left a very strong aftertaste. The mouthwash itself seems to be very strong, much more than over-the-counter mouthwashes I use normally.

I also drank some water about 15 minutes after using the mouthwash and since I didn't have any food in my stomach, it irritated my stomach. I felt a little bit of heartburn and took some antacid.

Has anyone had stomach upset from eating and drinking after using a chlorhexidine mouthwash? Am I not supposed to eat or drink afterward?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a WiseGeek contributor, Tricia...
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