Methanol poisoning

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Methanol is a nondrinking type of alcohol used for industrial and automotive purposes. This article discusses poisoning from an overdose of methanol.

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.

Alternative Names

Wood alcohol poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

Methyl alcohol

Where Found

Methanol is found in:

  • Antifreeze
  • Canned heating sources
  • Copy machine fluids
  • De-icing fluid
  • Fuel additives (octane boosters)
  • Paint remover or thinner
  • Shellac
  • Varnish
  • Windshield wiper fluid

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.


Symptoms may include:

Airway and lungs

  • Breathing difficulty
  • No breathing


  • Blindness, complete or partial, sometimes described as "snow blindness"
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilation (widening) of the pupils

Heart and blood

  • Low blood pressure

Nervous system

Skin and nails

  • Bluish-colored lips and fingernails

Stomach and intestines

  • Abdominal pain (severe)
  • Diarrhea
  • Liver problems, including jaundice (yellow skin) and bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Pancreatitis (nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain)
  • Vomiting, sometimes bloody


  • Fatigue
  • Leg cramps
  • Weakness

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.

Before Calling Emergency

The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control

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. This 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. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms, including antidotes to reverse the effect of the poison (fomepizole or ethanol)
  • Tube through the nose to remove remaining poison, if the person is seen within 60 minutes after swallowing it

Because rapid removal of methanol is a key to treatment success and survival, the person will likely need dialysis (kidney machine).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Methanol is extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons can be deadly to a child. About 2 to 8 ounces can be deadly for an adult. Blindness is common and often permanent despite medical care. How well the person does depends on how much poison is swallowed and how soon treatment is received.


Goldfrank LR, ed. Goldfrank's Toxicologic Emergencies. 9th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2011.

White SR. Toxic alcohols. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 155.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 1/23/2015
  • Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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