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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 control 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
  • Gasoline

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 (shock)

NERVOUS SYSTEM

  • Convulsions (seizures)
  • Coma (lack of responsiveness)
  • Decreased alertness and responsiveness
  • Depression
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness
  • Feeling of being drunk (euphoria)
  • Headache
  • 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 them 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 control 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 national hotline 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:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • Breathing support, including oxygen, a tube through the mouth into the lungs, and a breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy (camera down the throat to look for burns in the airways and lungs)
  • Chest x-ray
  • ECG
  • Endoscopy (camera down the throat to look for burns in the esophagus and the stomach)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine to reverse the effect of the poison and treat symptoms
  • Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
  • Tube through the mouth into the stomach to aspirate the stomach, but only when the person is seen within 30 to 45 minutes of the poisoning and a very large amount of the poison has been swallowed
  • 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 this type of poison can affect many parts of the body. Burns in the airway or gastrointestinal tract can lead to tissue death. Infection, shock and death can follow, even several months after the poison has been swallowed. Scars may form in these tissues leading to long-term problems with breathing, swallowing and digestion.

If kerosene gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious and, possibly, permanent lung damage can occur.

Alternative Names

Lamp oil poisoning; Coal oil poisoning

References

Nelson LS. Acute poisoning. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 102.

Gummin DD. Hydrocarbons. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 152.

Wang GS, Buchanan JA. Hydrocarbons. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 152.

Review Date 9/28/2019

Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Emeritus, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.