Kerosene poisoning

Definition

Kerosene is an oil used as a fuel for lamps, as well as heating and cooking. This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing or breathing in kerosene.

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.

Alternative Names

Lamp oil poisoning; Coal oil poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Hydrocarbons, substances that contain only hydrogen and carbon.

Where Found

  • Kerosene (a fuel used for heating and cooking)
  • Some lamp fuels

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

  • Airways and lungs
    • Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
    • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)
  • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • Pain
    • Vision loss
  • Gastrointestinal
    • Abdominal pain
    • Bloody stools
    • Burns of the esophagus (food pipe)
    • Vomiting, possibly with blood
  • Heart and blood
    • Collapse
    • Low blood pressure -- develops rapidly
  • Nervous system
    • Convulsions
    • Depression
    • Dizziness
    • Drowsiness
    • Euphoria ("drunk" feeling)
    • Headache
    • Loss of alertness (unconsciousness)
    • Seizures
    • Staggering
    • Weakness
  • Skin
    • Burns
    • Irritation

Home Care

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 or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the patient is unconscious (has a decreased level of alertness).

If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:

  • The patient's age, weight, and condition
  • The name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • The time it was swallowed
  • The amount swallowed

Poison Control

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.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The patient 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 (IV)
  • Oxygen
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
  • Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a patient does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a patient gets medical help, the better the chance for recovery.

Swallowing kerosene may cause damage to the linings of the mouth, throat, esophagus (food pipe), stomach, and intestines. If kerosene gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious and, possibly, permanent lung damage can occur.

Damage can continue to occur for several weeks after the poison was swallowed. Death may occur as long as a month afterwards.

References

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.


Review Date: 2/28/2012
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., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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