Remedy for indigestion lands man in ICU

This article is more than 12 months old

It was a home remedy for stomach discomfort which Mr Gunalan Perumal had taken countless times.

But when the 55-year-old operations manager took a swig of omum water on Aug 3 to cure his indigestion, he landed up in the intensive care unit at the Singapore General Hospital for three days with injuries and swelling to his mouth and throat.

Preliminary investigations by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) found that the Sri Ambikkas Omum Water that Mr Gunalan had consumed had a pH level of more than 13 - equivalent to levels found in chlorine bleach.

The product is supposed to have a neutral pH of 7.4 to 7.9, said the HSA on Aug 10 after testing additional samples of the drink.

"A highly alkaline product may cause adverse reactions including injuries or burns to the tissues (it comes in contact with)," it said, adding that no other poisons or drugs were detected in the original sample.

HSA was alerted to the case on Aug 4 and the importer has quarantined and stopped sales of the product.

The shop that sold the bottle of drink in question has also stopped selling and stocking it.

HSA said the case "appears" to be an isolated incident and it has not received any other adverse reports about the drink. Investigations are ongoing.

Recounting his experience to The Straits Times, Mr Gunalan said: "I drank a mouthful and immediately my throat and mouth started burning. I tried to drink cold water, but started vomiting."

The expiry date on the bottle had not passed and its seal was also intact before he drank it.

In a picture of the bottle that Mr Gunalan showed ST, the drink appeared cloudly which makes it different from omum water, usually a clear liquid.

But Mr Gunalan said he did not notice this when he drank it.

Omum water is made with the distilled oil of the herb also known as "Trachyspermum ammi" and is meant to aid digestion. The drink is sold at many minimarts in Little India.

Mr Gunalan's wife, Madam Tarumampal Mariyappan, 55, who bought the drink from a minimart near their Queens Road home days earlier, took a sip of the drink after seeing him react to it.

"My lips started swelling and I was shocked that it tasted so different," said the patient care assistant.

After Mr Gunalan was discharged on Aug 8, he was given one month of medical leave.

Madam Tarumampal received outpatient treatment and was given a day's medical leave.