Kerosene poisoning – Symptoms, causes and treatment

Kerosene poisoning is said to occur when a person either swallows or inhales kerosene, intentionally or accidentally.

Kerosene poisoning – Symptoms, causes and treatmentKerosene is a combustible hydrocarbon liquid, mainly used in paints, pesticides, fuel lamps and heating. Primarily, kerosene poisoning can be accidental or intentional. The common ways by which poisoning occurs are inhalation, ingestion of kerosene and intense ocular and dermal exposure to kerosene.

In India and other developing countries, most of the cases of kerosene poisoning are accidental due to its extensive use in cooking and lighting among people belonging to the lower socioeconomic groups and its inappropriate storage in soft drink/beer bottles.

Symptoms of kerosene poisoning

Acute exposure to kerosene by inhalation can result in headache, dizziness, drowsiness, euphoria, restlessness, ataxia, convulsions, coma and death. It can also provoke signs of pulmonary irritation like coughing and shortness of breath.

The defatting action (chemical dissolving of dermal lipids from the skin) of kerosene on the skin can result in local irritation as well as drying and cracking of skin. There may be transient pain with redness, blistering and superficial burns.

Kerosene poisoning in the eyes may result in irritation causing an immediate stinging and burning sensation with excessive tear production.

Intentional ingestion of kerosene can cause nausea, vomiting and occasionally diarrhoea.

First aid in case of kerosene poisoning

  • Firstly, the person should be moved to a safe place, and the unabsorbed poison should be removed from the GI tract, eye or skin.
  • Patients who have had symptoms of possible aspiration should be referred to the hospital immediately.
  • As vomited material can enter the windpipe and cause further problems, vomiting induction is not recommended in cases of kerosene ingestion.
  • An antidote minimizes the poison’s effect either by absorption, elimination or neutralization of poisonous substance. Charcoal is an adsorbent but it’s rarely used in kerosene poisoning as it may cause vomiting which is not desired.

Treatment for kerosene poisoning

The first line of treatment for patients with kerosene poisoning is stabilization of the airways. For a patient who has severe respiratory distress or a decreased level of consciousness, early intubation and mechanical ventilation are required. Permanent lung damage can occur, if kerosene gets into the lungs.

Gastric lavage is avoided. In case of massive kerosene poisoning, a cuffed end tracheal tube is used. After lavage, small amount of magnesium or sodium sulphate is left behind in the stomach.

In case of dermal exposure, affected skin should be decontaminated as soon as possible.

When poisoning is via ocular exposure, the patient should be moved from the area of exposure, contact lenses removed and the affected eye should be irrigated immediately with water or 0.9% saline for at least 10-15 minutes.

Most commonly, in severe cases antibiotics like penicillin G and Kanamycin are prescribed.

Prevention of kerosene poisoning

As a primary preventive care following things should be taken into consideration:

  • Contact numbers of the nearest hospitals and doctors should be maintained in contact list/diary.
  • Household kerosene should be kept away from children’s reach.
  • The word poison should be exhibited prominently on the containers of kerosene.
  • Kerosene oil should not be stored in tumblers or beverage bottles.

Photograph via sxc.hu and Longhair via Creative Commons 

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