Formaldehyde poisoning occurs when a person inhales formaldehyde fumes or ingests the liquid form. This is a serious, life-threatening occurrence and medical attention is required immediately; low-level exposure is not life-threatening though. Formaldehyde gas is colorless and has a suffocating odor. It is a result of the oxidation of methanol. It can be also be absorbed through the skin. For low level exposure, removal of the affected person from the area is the first step, and then treatment of the symptoms depending on the organs involved. You should note that formaldehyde is found in more than 3,000 building products and this is why it is the most common air pollutant in many homes.
Symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning
- The first symptom when dealing with formaldehyde gas is irritation of the nose, eyes and throat.
- The patient will also suffer from headache
- The patient may also develop rashes on the skin, especially if the poising is due to contact with formaldehyde liquid
- There is a strong sense of fatigue
- The patient will have difficulties sleeping
- There will be some nausea and difficulty when breathing
- There will be irritation of the stomach when it is ingested.
- In severe cases the following symptoms will occur
- Irregular breathing
- The patient may go into a coma
- In rare cases, there may be acute destruction of red blood cells if medical equipment, which comes into contact with the blood while still having traces of formaldehyde, which is used for cleaning them.
Formaldehyde poisoning can bring about some complications such as:
- Asthma attacks – these will come if the patient had been exposed to high levels of formaldehyde gas
- Cancer – Chronic and long-term exposure to formaldehyde gas can bring about cancer of the nasal sinuses and passages
- Respiratory complications – chronic exposure to formaldehyde gas can lead to the development of asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis
- Blindness – exposure to high levels of formaldehyde gas can bring about blindness
- Multi-organ failure – this may happen when formaldehyde is ingested or one is exposed to formaldehyde gas for a long time.
Formaldehyde poisoning comes from contact with and ingestion of formaldehyde liquid; it also comes from inhalation of formaldehyde gas.
Diagnosis of formaldehyde poisoning
There are no specific methods of checking for formaldehyde poisoning, but the doctor may put the patient through:
- Complete history about the poisoning, which will involve getting all information about the recent exposure to substance, chemicals, environments or equipment which had formaldehyde
- Pulmonary function test – this is a series of tests which are used to check on the functioning of the lungs
- Chest X-rays to check on the irritation of the lungs
- Bronchoscopy – this is the use of a fiber-optic scope to check on the major airways of the lungs
- Endoscopy – this is the examination of the digestive tract to check on the irritation or damage caused by the formaldehyde
- Arterial blood gases – in this case, the doctor checks on the carbon dioxide and oxygen levels of the blood to see if the lungs are functioning properly
There are other clinical conditions that may exhibit the same symptoms, so the doctor may order more tests to completely be sure about the formaldehyde poisoning.
Treatment of formaldehyde poisoning
The first thing should be the removal of the patient from the environment where the poisoning took place, if formaldehyde gas is the cause. Other treatments include:
- The skin and eyes must be flushed with saline solution or plain water immediately
- If the eyes get infected, antibiotic eye drops should be used
- If there is respiratory distress, intermittent positive pressure breathing (IPPB), oxygen, inhalers and bronchodilators should be used
- If the formaldehyde was ingested, activated charcoal, water or milk can be given to neutralize the formaldehyde.
It is important that you know how to prevent formaldehyde poisoning since it can be fatal. Here are some of the measures that you should take:
- Ask about the formaldehyde content of construction wood before you buy it. The pressed wood that you should use should be of exterior grade.
- Make sure that there is enough ventilation in your home.
- Make sure the home has moderate temperature to stop formaldehyde gas from being emitted by wood products.
- Use humidifiers and air-conditioners to reduce the humidity of your home
- Buy a “Home Air Test Check Kit” to check for formaldehyde in your home
When formaldehyde is inhaled in low levels, the patients can easily be treated and make a full recovery after a short while. However, formaldehyde gas exposure, especially in confined, poorly ventilated spaces can be fatal. Basically, if prompt and adequate action is taken, the patient will make a full recovery.