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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:

Gastrointestinal:

Heart and blood:

Lungs and chest:

Nervous system:

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, or a Local Emergency Number

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 support, including a┬átube through the mouth into the lungs and a breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
  • Fluids through the vein (by IV)
  • 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:

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.

Lee DC. Hydrocarbons.In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al., eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 158.

Updated: 1/20/2014

Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


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