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Kerosene poisoning

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 article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Hydrocarbons, substances that contain only hydrogen and carbon.

Where Found

These ingredients can be found in:

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

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Kerosene poisoning can cause symptoms in various parts of the body.

AIRWAYS AND LUNGS

  • Breathing difficulty (from inhalation)
  • Throat swelling (may also cause breathing difficulty)

EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT

  • Pain
  • Vision loss

STOMACH AND INTESTINES

  • 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

Get medical help right away. DO NOT make the person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care provider.

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 provider. DO NOT give water or milk if the person 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

Get the following information:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strength, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This 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

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

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate. The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator).
  • Bronchoscopy. Camera placed down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs.
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (heart tracing)
  • Endoscopy. Camera placed down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach.
  • Fluids through a vein (IV)
  • 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 person does depends on the amount of poison swallowed and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person 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 later.

Alternative Names

Lamp oil poisoning; Coal oil poisoning

References

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2014:chap 158.

Update Date 11/4/2015

Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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