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Naphthalene poisoning

Naphthalene is a white solid substance with a strong smell. Poisoning from naphthalene destroys or changes red blood cells so they cannot carry oxygen.

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.

Alternative Names

Moth balls; Moth flakes; Camphor tar

Poisonous Ingredient

Naphthalene

Where Found

  • Moth repellent
  • Toilet bowl deodorizers

Symptoms

Stomach problems may not occur until 2 days after coming in contact with the poison. They can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The patient may also have a fever. Over time, the following additional symptoms may occur:

NOTE: Persons with a condition called glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase deficiency are more vulnerable to the effects of napthalene.

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, or a local emergency number

If you suspect possible poisoning, seek emergency medical care immediately. Call your local emergency number (such as 911).

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.

Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.

See: Poison control center - emergency number

What to expect at the emergency room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the patient's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.

Blood and urine tests will be done.

Persons who have recently eaten many mothballs containing napthelene may be forced to vomit.

Other treatments may include:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Blood transfusion (rarely)
  • Fluids through a vein (by I.V.)
  • A medicine called methylene blue if methemoglobinemia is present

Expectations (prognosis)

It can take several weeks or longer to recover from some of the poisonous effects.

If the patient has convulsions and coma , the outlook is not good.

References

Ford MD, Delaney KA, Ling LJ, Erickson T, eds. Clinical Toxicology. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2001:chap XX.

Cantilena LR Jr. Clinical toxicology. In: Klaassen CD, ed. Casarett and Doull’s Toxicology: The Basic Science of Poisons. 7th ed. New York, NY: McGraw-Hill; 2008:chap 32.

Updated: 8/3/2011

Eric Perez, MD, Department of Emergency Medicine, St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital Center, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.


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