Plant fertilizer poisoning

Definition

Plant fertilizers and household plant foods are substances used to improve plant growth. Plant fertilizer and household plant food poisoning can occur if someone swallows these substances.

Plant fertilizers are mildly poisonous if swallowed in small doses. Larger doses can be harmful to children. Touching large quantities of plant fertilizers may cause severe burns.

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.

Alternative Names

Household plant food poisoning; Plant food - household - poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites

Where Found

  • Various fertilizers

Symptoms

  • Blue-colored fingernails, lips, or palms of the hand
  • Burning skin
  • Burning of the throat, nose, and eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Itchy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin redness
  • Stomach pain
  • Stomach upset

Home Treatment

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:

  • Blood tests to diagnose methemoglobinemia
  • Breathing support, including a breathing tube
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison

Expectations (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.

Fertilizers can be dangerous in large amounts. They will affect the amount of oxygen that your brain and other organs receive. If you eat large amounts, your outcome will depend on how quickly you receive medical attention.

References

Belson M. Ammonia and nitrogen oxides. 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 97.

Revision

Last reviewed 2/28/2012 by Eric Perez, MD, St. Luke's / Roosevelt Hospital Center, NY, NY, and Pegasus Emergency Group (Meadowlands and Hunterdon Medical Centers), NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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