Plant fertilizers and household plant foods are used to improve plant growth. Poisoning can occur if someone swallows these products.
Plant fertilizers are mildly poisonous if small amounts are swallowed. Larger amounts can be harmful to children. Touching a large amount of plant fertilizer may cause severe burns.
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 the local emergency number (such as 911), or the 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.
The ingredients in plant fertilizers that can be harmful are:
Various fertilizers contain nitrates and nitrites.
Symptoms of plant fertilizer poisoning include:
- Gray or blue-colored fingernails, lips, or palms of the hand
- Burning skin
- Burning of the throat, nose, and eyes
- Itchy skin
- Low blood pressure (shock)
- Shortness of breath
- Skin redness
- Stomach pain
- Stomach upset (nausea, vomiting, cramps)
Get medical help right away. Do not make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.
If the fertilizer is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person swallowed the fertilizer, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to do so. Do not give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, seizures, or a decreased level of alertness.
If the person breathed in the fertilizer, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (and ingredients, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
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 to the hospital with you, if possible.
The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure.
Tests that may be done include:
- Blood and urine tests
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to look for burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- ECG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
- Methemoglobinemia, a condition that can be caused by nitrogenous fertilizer (including run-off from farms)
Treatment may include:
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicine to treat symptoms
- Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and breathing machine (ventilator)
Fertilizers can be dangerous in large amounts. They will affect the amount of oxygen that your brain and other organs receive.
How well someone does depends on how severe the poisoning is and how quickly treatment is received. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.
Household plant food poisoning; Plant food - household - poisoning
Aronson JK. Nitrates, organic. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier; 2016:192-202.
Levine MD. Chemical injuries. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 57.
Review Date 11/13/2021
Updated by: Jesse Borke, MD, CPE, FAAEM, FACEP, Attending Physician at Kaiser Permanente, Orange County, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.