Toluene and xylene poisoning
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Toluene and xylene are powerful compounds that are found in many household and industrial substances. Toluene and xylene poisoning can occur when someone swallows these substances, breathes in their vapors, or when these substances touch the skin.
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.
- Toluene (methylbenzene, phenylmethane)
- Xylene (ortho-xylene, meta-xylene, para-xylene)
- Fingernail polish
- Octane booster in gasoline
- Paint thinners
- Printing and leather tanning processes
- Rubber and plastic cements
- Wood stains
Note: This list may not include all sources of toluene/xylene.
Eyes, ears, nose, and throat:
- Abdominal pain - severe
- Bloody stools
- Loss of appetite
- Vomiting - possibly blood
Heart and blood vessels:
Lungs and airways:
- Dry, cracked skin
- Pale skin
Get medical help right away. 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, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water if the person 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:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
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 tube through the mouth into the lungs and breathing machine (ventilator)
- Bronchoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (heart tracing)
- Endoscopy -- camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and the stomach
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Tube through the mouth into the stomach to wash out the stomach (gastric lavage)
- Surgical removal of burned skin (skin debridement)
- Washing of the skin (irrigation) -- perhaps every few hours for several days
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.
Inhaling these substances for long periods of time can cause permanent brain damage. This type of damage is seen in people who intentionally "sniff" these substances to get high.
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.
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.
- Last reviewed on 1/31/2014
- 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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