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Toluene and xylene poisoning
Toluene and xylene are powerful compounds that are found in many household and industrial substances. Toluene and xylene poisoning can occur when someone swallows these substances, breathes in their vapors, or when these substances touch the skin.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
- Toluene (methylbenzene, phenylmethane)
- Xylene (ortho-xylene, meta-xylene, para-xylene)
- Fingernail polish
- Octane booster in gasoline
- Paint thinners
- Printing and leather tanning processes
- Rubber and plastic cements
- Wood stains
Note: This list may not include all sources of toluene/xylene.
- Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
- Blurred vision
- Burning pain
- Hearing loss
- Abdominal pain - severe
- Bloody stools
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting - possibly blood
- Heart and blood vessels
- Irregular heartbeat
- Low blood pressure
- Kidney damage
- Lungs and airways
- Breathing difficulty
- Chest pain
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Nervous system
- Dry, cracked skin
- Pale skin
Seek immediate medical help. Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water if the patient is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Patient's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor your vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. You may receive:
- Breathing tube
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days
How well you do depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment is received. The faster you get medical help, the better the chance for recovery.
Inhaling these substances for long periods of time can cause irreversible brain damage. This type of damage is seen in people who intentionally "sniff" these substances to get high.
Mirkin DB. Benzene and related aromatic hydrocarbons. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 94.
Reviewed By: Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.