Insecticide is a chemical that kills bugs. Insecticide poisoning occurs when someone swallows or breathes in this substance or it is absorbed through the skin.
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.
Organophosphate poisoning; Carbamate poisoning
Most household bug sprays contain plant-derived chemicals called pyrethrins. These chemicals were originally isolated from chrysanthemum flowers and are generally not harmful. However, they can cause life-threatening breathing problems if they are breathed in.
Stronger insecticides, which a commercial greenhouse might use or someone might store in their garage, contain many dangerous substances. These include:
Various insecticides contain these chemicals.
Below are symptoms of insecticide poisoning in different parts of the body.
Symptoms of pyrethrin poisoning:
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
Symptoms of organophosphate or carbamate poisoning:
HEART AND BLOOD
LUNGS AND AIRWAYS
BLADDER AND KIDNEYS
EYES, EARS, NOSE, AND THROAT
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
Note: Serious poisoning can occur if an organophosphate gets on your bare skin or if you don't wash your skin soon after it gets on you. Large amounts of the chemical soak through the skin unless you are protected. Life-threatening paralysis and death can occur very quickly.
Symptoms of paradichlorobenzene poisoning:
STOMACH AND INTESTINES
Note: Paradichlorobenzene mothballs are not very toxic. They have replaced the more toxic camphor and naphthalene types.
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 chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the person breathed in the poison, move them to fresh air right away.
Before Calling Emergency
Have this information ready:
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.
Tests that may be done include:
Treatment may include:
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. Swallowing these poisons can have severe effects on many parts of the body.
It is a good sign that recovery will occur if the person continues to improve in the first 4 to 6 hours after they receive treatment.
Although the symptoms are the same for carbamate and organophosphate poisoning, it is harder to recover after organophosphate poisoning.
Cannon RD, Ruha A-M. Insecticides, herbicides, and rodenticides. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 146.
Welker K, Thompson TM. Pesticides. 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.
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