This section is from the "A Handbook of Useful Drugs" book, by State Medical Examining and Licensing Boards.
Hydroxybenzene, obtained from coal-tar by fractional distillation and subsequent purification or made synthetically.
Properties : Phenol should contain not less than 98 per cent, of C6H5OH. It occurs as colorless, interlaced or separate, needle-shaped crystals, having a characteristic somewhat aromatic odor. When copiously diluted with water it has a sweetish taste, with a slightly burning aftertaste, and, when undiluted, cauterizes and whitens the skin and mucous membranes. Phenol is soluble in water (1 :20) and miscible with alcohol in all proportions.
Action and Uses: Phenol is antiseptic and germicide. A solution of 1:850 will prevent the multiplication of bacteria. A 1 per cent, solution will usually destroy non-sporulating bacteria in a few minutes at ordinary temperature, but a 5 per cent, solution fails to destroy anthrax spores after twenty-four hours' exposure.
Phenol is taken as the type or standard for comparing the activity of disinfectants. The phenol coefficient means the relative strength of a disinfectant, as compared with a solution of phenol acting on the same organism and for the same length of time
Phenol is escharotic when applied to the skin, turning the skin and tissues white. If a finger or other extremity is surrounded with dressings wet even with a dilute solution of phenol, gangrene is liable to occur. Phenol acts as a local anesthetic. In consequence of this property it is employed to relieve itching. It may be used in the strength of 1 per cent, in solution or in ointment.
Internally, phenol has been used as an antiseptic in mouthwashes, gargles and sprays. It was formerly employed as an antiseptic in fermentation in the stomach, but it should not be used for this purpose. It is sometimes given with success to check obstinate vomiting. It is not so useful as an intestinal antiseptic as some other remedies, particularly salol.
The injection of phenol into the rectum for the destruction of parasites is dangerous and has sometimes resulted fatally.
Superficial burns from the action of phenol should be treated by the application of alcohol, glycerol, ether or oils to remove the poison.
In phenol poisoning the stomach may be washed out by diluted alcohol, which should be completely removed by washing with water. If left in the stomach the alcohol may favor the absorption of phenol.