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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 Care:

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 or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk 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:

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

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)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine (antidote) to reverse the effect of the poison
Outlook (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.

Levine MD, Zane R. Chemical Injuries. 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 64.


Review Date: 1/31/2014
Reviewed By: 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.

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

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