Most poisonings happen when a person (often a child) drinks some kind of household or garden chemical. Adult gardeners have been known accidentally to drink insecticides and weed killers that they themselves had stored in soft drink bottles. Some common plants can be toxic if eaten. Almost any non-food substance is poisonous if taken in large doses. Few cases are fatal but as many as 2 million children are taken to hospital with suspected poisoning every year. To reduce the risks, keep all medications and dangerous chemicals well out of reach of children, and never store weed killers or insecticides in unmarked bottles.
Warning Signs Of Poisoning
вЂў Stomach pain
вЂў Vomiting and nausea
вЂў Erratic behavior or excessive sleepiness
вЂў Unusual breath or body odor
вЂў Difficulty in breathing
вЂў Burns around the mouth if the poison is corrosive, and severe pain throughout the mouth, throat and stomach.
Swallowed Poison: If the person is conscious, try to find out what substance was swallowed. If it is a child, have them spit out any remaining substance. But do not try to make them vomit. Remember that the person may lose consciousness at any time. Look around for a container or the remains of a poisonous plant that might be a clue as to what has been taken. If the casualty has vomited, collect samples.
Skin Poison: Remove clothing and wash affected area in lukewarm water for at least 15 minutes.
Eye Poison: Flush the eye by holding it open and pouring a steady stream of room temperature water into the corner for 15 minutes.
If the person is unconscious, having convulsions or breathing problems, call an ambulance. Be sure to give the ambulance crew anything that may help to identify the poison, such as pill containers or a sample of vomit. If the person has mild symptoms and you want advice, you can call Poison Help at 1-800-222-1222.
Anyone who has taken an overdose of a drug requires immediate medical attention. This applies to an overdose of a prescribed medicine or an over-the-counter drug such as aspirin or ibuprofen as much as it does to an illegal drug such as heroin.
Symptoms depend on the size of the overdose and the type of drug, but they can include any of the following:
вЂў Difficulty in breathing.
вЂў Dilation or contraction of the pupils.
вЂў Excessive and abnormal sleepiness, a state of confusion, or bizarre outbursts of speech.
What To Do
Call 911 for an ambulance. Ask for advice on what to do while waiting for help. Generally, don’t induce vomiting unless a doctor or the ambulance personnel suggest it.
Don’t try to keep a person who may have overdosed awake with strong black coffee or by walking about. Physical activity will only help to speed up absorption of the drug.
If the person loses consciousness, place him or her in the recovery position.
Many gases are toxic, including fumes from burning polyurethane, ammonia (used in refrigeration plants, cleaning products and fertilizers) and carbon monoxide from car exhaust fumes.
Casualties of gas poisoning often demonstrate unsound judgment and are difficult and uncooperative. Some become confused or stupefied, or lose consciousness.
What To Do
The strong, acrid smell will alert you. Poisoning usually occurs only when trapped in an enclosed area. Do not enter without a mask. The gas disperses very slowly.
Burning Polyurethane Foam
These fumes can kill in minutes. Call the fire brigade and allow experts to handle the situation. Do not try anything yourself.
If you suspect that a car or garage is filled with carbon monoxide, open the doors and get any occupants into the open air.
In all cases of suspected gas poisoning, from whatever cause, make sure you check the airway, breathing and circulation. If necessary, dial 911 for an ambulance and administer CPR – see also hands only CPR.
How to treat alcohol poisoning: First aid treatment.
How to treat burns: Immediate remedies for burns.
How to stop someone choking: Different techniques explained.
How to treat someone with electric shock: Safety information.
How to treat food poisoning: Recognizing the signs and treatment.
How to treat a sprain: 3 steps to making a sling.
How to treat seizures: Signs and treatment.
How can I treat food poisoning?
In most cases, people with food poisoning get better on their own without medical treatment. You can treat food poisoning by replacing lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration. In some cases, over-the-counter medicines may help relieve your symptoms.
When you have food poisoning, you may vomit after you eat or lose your appetite for a short time. When your appetite returns, you can most often go back to eating your normal diet, even if you still have diarrhea. Find tips on what to eat when you have food poisoning.
If your child has symptoms of food poisoning, such as vomiting or diarrhea, don’t hesitate to call a doctor for advice.
Replace lost fluids and electrolytes
When you have food poisoning, you need to replace lost fluids and electrolytes to prevent dehydration or treat mild dehydration. You should drink plenty of liquids. If vomiting is a problem, try sipping small amounts of clear liquids. Replacing lost fluids and electrolytes is the most important treatment for food poisoning.
Adults. Most adults with food poisoning can replace fluids and electrolytes with liquids such as
- fruit juices with water added to dilute the juice
- sports drinks
Eating saltine crackers can also help replace electrolytes.
Older adults, adults with a weakened immune system, and adults with severe diarrhea or symptoms of dehydration should drink oral rehydration solutions, such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte. Oral rehydration solutions are liquids that contain glucose and electrolytes.
Children. If your child has food poisoning, you should give your child an oral rehydration solution—such as Pedialyte, Naturalyte, Infalyte, and CeraLyte—as directed. Talk with a doctor about giving these solutions to your infant. Infants should drink breast milk or formula as usual.
In some cases, adults can take over-the-counter medicines such as loperamide (Imodium) and bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol, Kaopectate) to treat diarrhea caused by food poisoning.
These medicines can be dangerous for infants and children. Talk with a doctor before giving your child an over-the-counter medicine.
If you have bloody diarrhea or fever—signs of infections with bacteria or parasites—don’t use over-the-counter medicines to treat diarrhea. See a doctor for treatment.
How do doctors treat food poisoning?
To treat food poisoning caused by bacteria or parasites, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics or medicines that target parasites, in addition to rehydration solutions.
In some cases, doctors may recommend probiotics. Probiotics are live microbes, most often bacteria, that may be similar to microbes you normally have in your digestive tract. Studies suggest that some probiotics may help shorten a bout of diarrhea. Researchers are still studying the use of probiotics to treat food poisoning. For safety reasons, talk with your doctor before using probiotics or any other complementary or alternative medicines or practices. This is especially important when children, older adults, or those with weak immune systems have diarrhea.
Doctors may need to treat people with life-threatening symptoms and complications—such as severe dehydration, hemolytic uremic syndrome, or paralysis—in a hospital.
How can I prevent food poisoning?
You can prevent some food poisoning by properly storing, cooking, cleaning, and handling foods. For example,
- keep raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs separate from other foods
- prepare salads and refrigerate them before handling raw meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs
- promptly refrigerate or freeze foods that can spoil
- wash your hands with soap and water before and after handling food
- wash fruits and vegetables before eating, cutting, or cooking
- cook foods long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill harmful microbes
- wash utensils and surfaces after each use
- don’t eat foods that can spoil that have been sitting out for more than 2 hours, or in temperatures over 90 degrees, for more than 1 hour
Cook foods long enough and at high enough temperatures to kill harmful microbes.
Food safety is especially important for people who are more likely to get food poisoning and related complications, including
- infants and children
- pregnant women and their fetuses
- older adults
- people with weak immune systems
You can help prevent food poisoning by watching for food recalls. Companies recall foods—take foods off the market—if they find out that the foods could make people sick. If you learn that a food was recalled because it could cause food poisoning, check to see if you have the food. If you do, make sure no one eats it. You can return the food to the store or dispose of it.
To reduce your chances of getting travelers’ diarrhea when traveling to developing countries, avoid eating or drinking the following
- unbottled or untreated water. Also avoid brushing your teeth with unbottled or untreated water. Tap, well, lake, or river water may contain microbes.
- ice, foods, and drinks prepared with untreated tap or well water.
- unpasteurized juice, milk, and milk products like cheese or yogurt. Pasteurization kills harmful microbes.
- food or drinks from street vendors.
- warm food that was not served hot.
- raw or undercooked meat, fish, or shellfish.
- raw vegetables and fruits that you have not washed in clean water or peeled yourself.
If you are worried about travelers’ diarrhea, talk with your doctor before traveling. Your doctor may recommend ways that you can treat local water to kill or remove harmful microbes. Your doctor may also recommend that you bring antibiotics with you in case you get diarrhea during your trip. Early treatment with antibiotics can shorten a case of travelers’ diarrhea. Doctors may prescribe an antibiotic such as rifaximin (Xifaxan) or rifamycin (Aemcolo) to treat adults with travelers’ diarrhea caused by certain strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) who do not have fever or blood in the stool. For severe travelers’ diarrhea, your doctor may prescribe azithromycin (Zithromax, Zmax) or ciprofloxacin (Cipro).
Doctors may advise some people—especially people with weakened immune systems—to take antibiotics before and during a trip to help prevent travelers’ diarrhea.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.
Last Updated March 2021 | This article was created by familydoctor.org editorial staff and reviewed by Robert “Chuck” Rich, Jr., MD, FAAFP
Table of Contents
What is poisoning?
Poison is any substance that is harmful to your body. Many different types of poison exist. Poisonous substances can be products you have in your house. Medicines that aren’t taken as directed can be harmful. There are several ways you can be exposed to poison. You could breathe it in, swallow it, or absorb it through your skin. Poisoning can be an accident or a planned action.
Symptoms of poisoning
The effects of poisoning depend on the substance, amount, and type of contact. Your age, weight, and state of health also affect your symptoms.
Possible symptoms of poisoning include:
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Redness or sores around the mouth
- Dry mouth
- Drooling or foaming at the mouth
- Trouble breathing
- Dilated pupils (bigger than normal) or constricted pupils (smaller than normal)
- Shaking or seizures
What causes poisoning?
There are a number of substances that are harmful and can cause poisoning. These include:
- Household products and personal care products, like nail polish remover and mouthwash, which is harmful to children
- Cleaning products and detergents
- Paint thinner
- Pesticides and bug spray
- Lawn chemicals, such as herbicides, fertilizers, and fungicides
- Metals, such as lead
- Mercury, which can be found in old thermometers and batteries
- Prescription and over-the-counter medicines when combined or taken the wrong way
- Illegal drugs
- Carbon monoxide gas
- Spoiled food
- Plants, such as poison ivy and poison oak
- Venom from certain snakes and insects
How is poisoning diagnosed?
Your doctor can diagnose poisoning. First, they will review your medical history and do a physical exam. Your doctor also can perform tests to find the cause. Most poisons can be detected in your blood or urine. Your doctor may order a toxicology screen. This checks for common drugs using a urine or saliva sample.
Can poisoning be prevented or avoided?
The best way to prevent poisoning is to avoid contact with harmful substances. Below are some guidelines you should follow.
- Keep all household substances out of the reach of children. You should put them in high or locked cabinets. This includes medicine, cleaning products, and other harmful chemicals. You also can childproof your house with safety locks and guards.
- Wear protective clothing, like gloves, when you use cleaners and chemicals.
- Avoid using pesticides, paint thinner, and similar chemicals inside the house or garage. Try to find non-chemical solutions. If you do use these chemicals inside, keep the area well aired.
- Don’t mix chemicals. They may become poisonous when mixed. Bleach and ammonia are one example. When you mix them together, they create a deadly gas.
- Keep medicines and chemicals in their original containers.
- Label everything inside your medicine cabinet.
- Get rid of old or expired medicines and household products. Dispose of them safely, per FDA and hazardous waste guidelines. Call poison control for more information.
- Follow all product label directions.
- Have all gas-fueled, oil-fueled, and wood-fueled appliances serviced regularly. Be sure they are well vented.
- Never run your car in the garage, other than when you are coming or leaving.
- Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Regularly test and replace the batteries.
Treatment depends on the person and the type of poisoning. In this situation, try your best to stay calm. The first step is to get away from or remove the poison if you can. If the poison is in the air, move to a safe place with fresh air. If the poison is on the skin, rinse it off with water and remove nearby clothing. If the person swallowed the poison, do not try to induce vomiting. This approach is no longer recommended.
If the poisoned person is awake and alert, call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. You should have this number stored in your house and phone. Stay on the phone with the operator and follow all instructions. Try to have the following information ready:
- The person’s age and weight
- The person’s address
- The type of poisonous substance they were exposed to
- The time of the incident
- A list of allergies the person has
Call 911 if the poisoned person is unconscious or not breathing. The medical team will provide additional treatment. They can use methods to get rid of the poison before it causes more harm. Some types of poison have antidotes. These work by reversing the poison’s effects and curing it. Treatment also includes measures to relieve symptoms.
Living with poisoning
The sooner you recognize poisoning symptoms, the better the outcome. However, the lasting effects of poisoning vary. It depends on the substance, amount, and type of exposure. Your age, weight, and state of health also affect your outcome. Poisoning can cause short-term effects, like a skin rash or brief illness. In serious cases, it can cause brain damage, a coma, or death.
In this Article
- Symptoms of Sun Poisoning
- Treating Sun Poisoning
- Preventing Sun Poisoning
- Other Types of Sun Poisoning
Sun poisoning doesn’t really mean you’ve been poisoned. It is often the term used for a severe case of sunburn. This is usually a burn from ultraviolet (UV) radiation that inflames your skin.
Symptoms of Sun Poisoning
Within just 15 minutes of being in the sun, you can be sunburned. But you might not know it right away. The redness and discomfort might not show up for a few hours.
You can become severely sunburned if you stay in the sun a long time and don’t wear protection. You are more likely to sunburn if you have light skin and fair hair.
Severe sunburn or sun poisoning can cause symptoms such as the following:
- Skin redness and blistering
- Pain and tingling
- Fever and chills
Treating Sun Poisoning
For severe sunburn, these simple remedies usually do the trick:
- Get out of the sun.
- Take a cool (not cold) shower or bath or apply cool compresses.
- Drink extra fluids for a few days.
- Take ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve pain.
- Use aloe gel or a moisturizer.
- Completely cover sunburned areas when going outside.
Seek immediate medical care for these symptoms:
- A sunburn that forms blisters, covers a large area, or is very painful
- Facial swelling
- Fever and chills
- Upset stomach
- Headache, confusion, or faintness
- Signs of dehydration
Preventing Sun Poisoning
Follow the basics of sun safety:
- Wear a sunscreen that has an SPF of at least 30 and says “broad-spectrum” on the label, which means that it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB rays. Put it on all over about 15 to 30 minutes before going out in the sun. Reapply at least every 2 hours and after you’ve been sweating or in the water.
- Limit your sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and remember that water, snow, and sand can intensify the sun’s damaging rays.
- Wear sunglasses, a hat, and protective clothing.
Check on your medications. Ask your doctor if anything you take might make your skin more sensitive to sunlight. For example, some acne medications, antibiotics, antidepressants, diuretics, heart drugs, and birth control pills make skin more sensitive. So can some antibacterial medications and fragrances that go on your skin.
Other Types of Sun Poisoning
Sun poisoning may also refer to two types of reactions to sunlight:
Polymorphous light eruption (PMLE). PMLE is a reaction that does not appear to be linked to drugs or diseases. It happens in people who are at risk and who are exposed to intense sunlight that they’re not used to. For example, people living in northern climates could experience this if taking a winter vacation in a tropical climate.
Symptoms are a severe skin rash, usually appearing several hours after going out in the sun. The rash may be itchy and include:
- Small bumps over the sun-exposed areas of the body
- Dense clumps of bumps
- Hives, usually on the arms, lower legs, and chest
An inherited form of PMLE occurs in Native Americans. It can last from spring until fall. Symptoms at first include redness, burning, and itching, which usually last 2 or 3 days but can persist for weeks. Other symptoms may begin within a few hours of sun exposure but go away in a few hours. They include:
Treatment for PMLE depends on its severity. Other than staying out of the sun and protecting yourself when you are in the sun, you may not need treatment. The rash can clear by itself within 7 to 10 days.
Solar urticaria. Symptoms may develop within minutes of exposure to sun. If large areas of skin are involved, symptoms may include:
- Raised areas on the skin (hives or wheals)
- Loss of consciousness
Although the rash usually goes away within hours, you may experience the reaction off and on throughout the years. Antihistamines can treat some cases, but see your doctor for advice.
Other treatment or prevention for PMLE or solar urticaria may include:
- Steroids that go on your skin
- Sunscreen that says “broad-spectrum” on the label, which means it protects against the sun’s UVA and UVB radiation
- Phototherapy with psoralen UV light (PUVA) to desensitize skin to UV light
Nemours Foundation: “Sunburn.”
American Academy of Dermatology: “The Sun and Your Skin.”
The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library: “Photosensitivity.”
eMedicine: “Polymorphous Light Eruption.”
Net Wellness: “Treatment for Sun Poison.”
American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Polymorphous Light Eruption.”
Here’s how to spot the signs and symptoms of food poisoning—and how to treat it.
You had an undercooked burger, ate some deviled eggs that were sitting out on the picnic table a bit too long, or sampled something from a dodgy food truck…and now you’re paying the price. Here’s how to spot the signs and symptoms of food poisoning—and how to treat it.
What causes food poisoning
In the majority of food poisoning cases, the technical term for your misery is gastroenteritis—an irritation of the stomach and intestines. It’s typically caused by bacteria (such as Salmonella, E. coli, or Campylobacter) or a virus (like norovirus).
In the case of food poisoning, you likely picked up bacteria in something you ate (duh), but you can also get gastroenteritis from coming in contact with someone who’s infected, or not washing your hands after going to the bathroom. (You’ll sometimes hear it referred to as “stomach flu,” but it has nothing to do with the influenza virus.)
Food poisoning symptoms
The signs of food poisoning can range from very mild (a passing stomachache) to severe (fever and nonstop diarrhea). Depending on which bug you’ve picked up, symptoms start in as little as 8 hours, but you may not start feeling sick for up to 2 weeks. You might have:
- Abdominal pain
- Low fever
How to treat food poisoning
DON’T take an over-the-counter anti-diarrhea drug without a doctor’s OK. Your body is trying to expel the bugs that are making you sick, and you don’t want to interfere with the natural healing process.
DO stay hydrated. You’ll need to replenish all the fluids you’re losing, to avoid serious dehydration. Sip electrolyte-rich liquids, like Gatorade, broth, or coconut water. If you’re keeping down fluids, slowly introduce easy-to-digest foods, like the classic BRAT diet: bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast.
If you’re a healthy adult with a solid immune system, most bouts of food poisoning will pass on their own after a couple of, ahem, crappy days. In general, there’s nothing you can really do to speed the healing. The best thing you can do is rehydrate, rest, and try not to dwell on the meal that did this to you.
When to get help
See a doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:
1. You have diarrhea along with a fever higher than 101°.
2. You’re dizzy, light-headed, or intensely thirsty.
3. You haven’t kept anything down for 24 hours.
4. You’ve had diarrhea for five days or more.
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Zinc is a blue-white metal that is widely used in many industrial materials, in some foods, in dental creams, and in vitamins or supplements. Although the human body needs at least 15 milligrams (.0005 oz.) of zinc to remain healthy, there are significant side effects if excessive zinc is consumed, including vomiting, seizures, jaundice and low blood pressure. A metallic taste in the mouth also can indicate zinc poisoning. A medical doctor should be consulted immediately to treat zinc poisoning. After consulting poison control or a medical professional, most people are given fluids, such as milk, to drink. In some cases, a doctor may recommend nasogastric suction, gastric lavage, antidotes, or a red blood cell transfusion.
Once suspected, it is important to treat zinc poisoning in the body immediately. Milk commonly is given to line the stomach and flush the zinc out of the body. The next step is often gastric lavage or gastric suction. With gastric lavage, a tube is placed through the nose or mouth and into the stomach and the contents are washed out of the stomach. With gastric suction, the stomach contents are sucked out.
Sometimes the steps needed to treat zinc poisoning are more aggressive. For example, if the person has chronic anemia from the poisoning, she may need a red blood cell transfusion. Sometimes serum copper is given to the person to help, since a copper deficiency often occurs in the person with the poisoning.
If a person were to regularly consume more than 40 milligrams (.001 oz.) of zinc, it could even be fatal within one week. There are some tell-tale signs that it is time to treat zinc poisoning in the body. For example, if a person experiences body pain, convulsions, chills, fever, an inability to urinate, a metallic taste in the mouth, rash, yellow skin or eyes, low blood pressure, or bloody diarrhea, the person may need to treat for zinc poisoning. If the poisoning is not treated, it can affect the kidneys and result in kidney failure.
In most cases, it is easy to avoid an overdose of zinc. Using common sense, such as taking the recommended amount of supplements and vitamins, will usually prevent zinc consumption from turning toxic. Some products, such as denture creams, were discovered to contain high amounts of zinc as well. Using those products daily, especially when combined with multivitamins containing zinc, may cause toxic amounts of the mineral to build-up in the body.
Since the discovery of zinc in denture creams, many lawsuits have been filed by people who needed to treat for zinc poisoning in their bodies. The plaintiffs claim that the manufacturers of the creams should have informed the users about the side effects of excessive use of the zinc-infused denture creams.
Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to .
Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to .
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I used Fixodent for six or seven years. I didn’t know anything about zinc until one day I saw it on the box and this ticked me off. I am 52 and having some problems, but not sure what causes it. Both hands hurt and are stiff in same places. I am having thyroid problems too. Can this be linked? weird1 June 22, 2012
I was diagnosed with Ankylosing Spondylitis too, then my kidneys failed on me last year and I had to wear diapers for a while. I was put on a pill for urinary frequency. Now I have started falling a lot and have numbness In my legs.
I got my dentures In 2005, and symptoms started in 2007 and I just recently started falling and having terrible numbness In my legs. I also have taken vitamins for years, and my vitamins contain zinc.
How can the FDA get away with poisoning people?
I just thank the Lord that I found out when I did.
I am 39 years old and will be 40 in July. Maybe I can reverse some of the damage that has been done. anon212495 September 7, 2011
I used fixodent for 12 years, and now I suffer every day from ankylosing spondylitis that’s been undiagnosed but they can’t figure anything else as a reason.
I can’t walk and sometimes I have to mega dose to sleep. I have stomach problems so bad I have to liquefy my food sometimes.
Fixodent still is selling and making zinc containing denture cream. However I’m trying poligrip non zinc. It works better and I pray every night my health comes back. anon151855 February 11, 2011
My husband has used Fixodent and Poligrip since 1985. He now only in the past several years his health has gone down hill. He now has numbness in both legs and both hands and fall all the time. His balance is so bad most of the time I walk behind him. Hopefully some one will help. Like everyone else said, what has the FDA been doing, sleeping on the job, and getting paid by people like us anon112327 September 19, 2010
I am 65 and for several years now I have felt sick to my stomach and a funny taste in my mouth. I have numbness in my toes on the right and hands. I have been using fixodent for over 10 years and only now found out that I could have zinc poisoning. This is so screwed up that the FDA didn’t see this sooner. anon83900 May 12, 2010
so what can i do at home to treat zinc poisoning?
This content is from
pages 256 to 260 of A Community Guide to Environmental Health
- Chapter 14: Pesticides Are Poison
- Pesticides Cause Many Health Problems
- Children and Pesticide Poisoning
- Protecting Children from Pesticides
- Treatment for Pesticide Poisoning
- Long-term Health Effects of Pesticides
- Pesticide Poisoning Can Look Like Other Illnesses
- How to Reduce Harm from Pesticide Use
- Pesticides on Food
- Pest Control at Home
- Pesticides Harm the Environment
- Pesticide Education
Like other toxic chemicals, pesticides can poison people in different ways: through the skin and eyes, through the mouth (by swallowing), or through the air (by breathing). Each kind of poisoning needs a different kind of treatment.
- 1 When pesticides get on the skin
- 1.1 Treatment
- 2 When pesticides are swallowed
- 2.1 Treatment
- 2.2 When to use atropine
- 3 When pesticides are breathed in
- 3.1 Treatment
- 3.2 Drawing for discussion: How do pesticides enter the body?
When pesticides get on the skin
Most pesticide poisonings are from pesticides being absorbed through the skin. This can happen when they spill while being moved, when they splash during mixing, during spraying, or when you touch crops that have just been sprayed. Pesticides can also get on your skin through your clothes, or when you wash clothes with pesticides on them.
Rashes and irritation are the first signs of poisoning through the skin. Because skin problems may be caused by other things, such as a reaction to plants, insect bites, infections, or allergies, it can be hard to know if the problem is caused by pesticides. Talk to other workers to find out if the crop you are working with causes this kind of reaction. If you work with pesticides and get any unexpected skin rashes, it is safest to treat them as if they are caused by pesticides.
If you or someone else gets pesticides on the body:
- Quickly remove any clothing the pesticides spilled onto.
- Wash the pesticides off the skin as soon as possible with soap and cool water.
- If it got into the eye, rinse the eye with clean water for 15 minutes.
If the skin is burned from pesticides:
- Rinse well with cool water.
- Do not remove anything stuck to the burn.
- Do not apply lotions, fats, or butter.
- Do not break blisters.
- Do not remove loose skin.
- Cover the area with a sterile dressing, if available.
- If pain lasts, get medical help! Bring the label from the pesticide containers or the names of the pesticides with you.
Pesticides can stick to your skin, hair, and clothes, even if you cannot see or smell them. Always wash with soap after using pesticides.
When pesticides are swallowed
People can swallow pesticides by eating, drinking, or smoking cigarettes in the fields while working with pesticides, or by drinking water polluted with pesticides. Children can drink or eat pesticides, especially if pesticides are stored in containers also used to hold food, or left in the open or low to the ground.
When someone swallows pesticides:
- If the person is unconscious, lay her on her side and make sure she is breathing.
- If the person is not breathing, quickly do mouth-to-mouth breathing. Mouth-to-mouth breathing can also expose you to the pesticide, so cover your mouth with a pocket mask, a piece of cloth, or thick plastic wrap with a hole cut in the middle, before you start mouth-to-mouth breathing.
- Find the pesticide package and read the label right away. The label will tell you if you should make the person vomit up the poison or not.
- If the person can drink, give her lots of clean water.
- Seek medical help. If it is available, always take the pesticide label or name with you.
Do not vomit if the label says not to. Never vomit after swallowing a pesticide that contains gasoline, kerosene, xylene, or other petroleum-based liquids. This will make the problem worse. Never make the person vomit or drink if she is unconscious, confused, or shaking badly.
If you are sure vomiting is OK, give the person:
- a glass of very salty water or
- 2 tablespoons of pounded strong-tasting edible plant (such as celery, basil, or another local herb) followed by 1 or 2 glasses of warm water
Keep the person moving around. This can help her vomit sooner.
After vomiting, activated or powdered charcoal can help absorb any poison still in the stomach.
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Treatment for methanol poisoning typically involves removing and neutralizing the methanol still in the stomach, neutralizing metabolic acidosis and preventing the remaining methanol from being broken down, and removing the un-metabolized methanol and any remaining methanol metabolites. When methanol is ingested, the body breaks down the compound into toxic parts or metabolites which causes metabolic acidosis, and blood and other body fluids become highly acidic. Metabolic acidosis can be fatal if not treated quickly.
If a patient is discovered soon after ingesting methanol, quick action can be performed by the emergency response team to remove any methanol still in the stomach by inducing vomiting or pumping out the poison. Activated charcoal, a fairly universal poison neutralizer, is often administered, although this is not an evidence-based practice. Unfortunately, activated charcoal is not particularly effective at absorbing methanol, or other alcohols. Any methanol that was digested by the stomach or reached the digestive tract before the stomach pumping will be broken down and begin to poison the body.
The second stage of treatment for methanol poisoning is to neutralize the metabolic acidosis caused by the metabolism of methanol to formic acid. Diagnosis of metabolic acidosis is difficult unless methanol poisoning is suspected because symptoms are fairly general and include vomiting, chest pain, heart palpitations, and an anxious mental state. Treatment begins by performing an arterial blood gas to test the body’s pH level, or how acidic the blood is, and the bicarbonate level, or the ability of the blood to buffer against elevated acid levels. To neutralize the elevated acid level, sodium bicarbonate will be administered intravenously to regulate the pH balance, and folinic or folic acid will be given to help metabolize the formic acid. The patient will often be given intravenous fluids and electrolytes, airway management, and be evaluated and treated for any existing neurological or cardiovascular problems resulting from the methanol poisoning.
In the third stage of treatment, the goal is to prevent further metabolism of the methanol and to remove unmetabolized methanol and any remaining toxic metabolites. Alcohol dehydrogenases are enzymes which catalyze the breakdown of alcohols and, in the case of methanol poisoning, allow for the breakdown of methanol to formic acid. Ethanol or fomepizole are typically administered to prevent the metabolism of methanol because they act as competitive inhibitors to alcohol dehydrogenases, meaning they bind to alcohol dehydrogenases and leave them inactive and useless. As a result, ethanol or fomepizole prevents or slows the metabolism of methanol into its toxic byproducts, allowing methanol to be eliminated through the kidneys. Hemodialysis will also be performed to clear the blood of any methanol and formic acid still remaining.