This article discusses the harmful effects from swallowing gasoline or breathing in its fumes.
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 911 or the local emergency number, 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.
The poisonous ingredients in gasoline are chemicals called hydrocarbons, which are substances that contain only hydrogen and carbon. Examples are benzene and methane.
These ingredients are found in gasoline and other liquids, such as kerosene.
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
Gasoline poisoning can cause symptoms in various parts of the body:
AIRWAYS AND LUNGS
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
HEART AND BLOOD
Get medical help right away. DO NOT make a 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:
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:
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 gasoline gets into the lungs (aspiration), serious and possibly permanent lung damage can occur.
The harsh taste of gasoline makes it unlikely that large quantities will be swallowed. However, several cases of poisoning have occurred in people trying to suck (siphon) gas from an automobile tank using a garden hose or other tube. This practice is extremely dangerous and is not advised.
Nelson LS. Acute poisoning. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 102.
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
Reviewed 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.
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.