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    Benzene poisoning

    Benzene is a clear, liquid, petroleum-based chemical that has a sweet smell. Benzene poisoning occurs when someone swallows, breathes in, or touches benzene.

    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.

    Poisonous Ingredient

    Benzene

    Where Found

    People may be exposed to benzene in factories, refineries, and other industrial settings. Benzene may be found in:

    • Additives to gasoline and diesel fuel
    • Many industrial solvents
    • Various paint, lacquer, and varnish removers

    Note: This list may not include all sources of benzene.

    Symptoms

    • Eyes, ears, nose, and throat
      • Blurred vision
      • Burning sensation in the nose and throat
    • Gastrointestinal
      • Loss of appetite
      • Nausea
      • Vomiting
    • Heart and blood
      • Irregular heartbeat
      • Rapid heartbeat
    • Lungs and chest
      • Rapid, shallow breathing
      • Tight chest
    • Nervous system
      • Dizziness
      • Drowsiness
      • Nervousness
      • Convulsions
      • Euphoria (feeling of being drunk)
      • Headache
      • Staggering
      • Tremors
      • Unconsciousness
      • Weakness
    • Skin
      • Pale skin
      • Small red dots on skin

    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 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

    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.

    See: Poison control center - emergency number

    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
    • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
    • Fluids by IV
    • Oxygen
    • Medicines to treat an allergic reaction (diphenhydramine, prednisone)
    • 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

    You may be admitted to the hospital if the poisoning is severe.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    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.

    Benzene is very poisonous. Poisoning can cause rapid death. However, deaths have occurred as late as 3 days after the poisoning. This happens because:

    • Permanent brain damage occurs
    • The heart stops (cardiac arrest)
    • The lungs stop working (respiratory arrest)

    People who have regular exposure to low levels of benzene can also become sick. The most common problems are blood diseases, including:

    • Leukemia
    • Lymphoma
    • Severe anemia

    People who work with benzene products should only do so in areas with good air flow. They should also use protective gloves and eye glasses.

    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.

    ATSDR (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry). Toxicological profile for benzene. Update. Public Health Service, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Atlanta, Ga.

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          Self Care

            Tests for Benzene poisoning

              Review Date: 2/16/2012

              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. 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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