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Cyanide Poisoning

Facts and definition of cyanide poisoning

  • Cyanide is a rare, but potentially deadly poison. It works by making the body unable to use life-sustaining oxygen. Cyanide compounds that can be poisonous include hydrogen cyanide gas, and the crystalline solids, potassium cyanide and sodium cyanide.
  • Common sources of cyanide poisoning include
    • smoke inhalation from fires,
    • industries that use cyanide (photography, chemical research, synthetic plastics, metal processing, and electroplating),
    • plants (such as apricot pits and a type of potato called cassava),
    • the cancer treatment laetrile, and
    • cigarette smoke.
  • Signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning can be difficult to detect and include
    1. general weakness,
    2. confusion,
    3. bizarre behavior,
    4. excessive sleepiness,
    5. coma,
    6. shortness of breath,
    7. headache,
    8. dizziness,
    9. vomiting,
    10. abdominal pain, and
    11. seizures.
  • The skin may be unusually pink or cherry-red, breathing may be fast, and heartbeat may be slow or fast.
  • An acute ingestion of cyanide will have a dramatic, rapid onset, immediately affecting the heart and causing sudden collapse, a seizure, or coma. Chronic poisoning from ingestion or the environment has a more gradual onset.
  • The setting may be more of a clue to whether a person has experienced cyanide poisoning than the symptoms.
  • If you or someone you know has ingested, inhaled or been exposed to cyanide, and you or they have signs or symptoms, such as weakness, dizziness, trouble breathing, confusion, or seizure, you must immediately call an ambulance, the emergency response system in your area, or a poison control center. In the United States, the National Poison Control Center contact number is 1-800-222-1222.
  • Cyanide poisoning cannot be treated at home. Immediate medical attention is always required.
  • Cyanide poisoning can be treatable when it is done promptly. Clothing that may contain traces of cyanide will be removed, and a Cyanide Antidote Kit (CAK) or hydroxocobalamin (Cyanokit) may be may be used.
  • Cyanide poisoning may be prevented in many cases with strict work safety regulations, home fire precautions, and childproofing of the home.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 11/20/2017

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Poisoning Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of poisoning are so wide and variable that there is no easy way to classify them, but they may include:

  • Enlarged or small pupils
  • Excessive drooling
  • Racing heart
  • Pain
  • Hyperactivity
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry skin
  • Dry mouth

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Toxicity, Cyanide »

Cyanide, one of the most rapidly acting lethal poisons known to humankind, was a main constituent of Earth's primordial atmosphere and probably played an important role in the development of life on Earth.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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