What Is Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning?
Carbon tetrachloride is a man-made compound. It appears in
- dry-cleaning agents
Due to its high toxicity, it’s no longer present in most
If you work with this chemical, it’s important to take proper
safety precautions. It can be toxic in both liquid and gas forms. The chemical
is dangerous if it’s ingested, inhaled, or absorbed through your skin.
Poisoning can cause toxic hepatitis and death. Animal studies
have also linked exposure to this chemical with hepatocellular carcinoma, which
is a type of liver cancer.
The information in this
article isn’t intended to treat poison exposure. Call 911 or the National Capital
Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 if exposure occurs.
What Are the Symptoms of Carbon
If you’re exposed to large amounts of this chemical, the symptoms
of poisoning may be sudden and severe. Immediate symptoms can include:
- a headache
- blurred vision
- warmth in your stomach if you ingested liquid carbon
Exposure to extremely high or concentrated doses may cause:
- stomach pain
Delayed symptoms may appear several days after acute exposure.
They may also develop after a long period of gradual exposure.
Toxic hepatitis is a major complication of this type of
poisoning. It’s a type of damage to the liver and kidneys. It can cause:
- a persistent headache
- abdominal pain
- bloody stool
- dark-colored urine
- back pain
- organ failure
What Causes Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning?
Poisoning can occur if you come into contact with high levels of
this chemical. Low levels of exposure over long periods of time can also be
toxic. This chemical is poisonous if it’s ingested, inhaled, or absorbed
through your skin.
Who Is at Risk for Carbon Tetrachloride
People who work at commercial dry-cleaning facilities have a high
risk of this type of poisoning. People who work in other industries that use or
manufacture this chemical are also at high risk. Proper safety equipment can
reduce the risk.
Carbon tetrachloride may seep into groundwater. Bathing or
swimming in contaminated water can lead to poisoning. Drinking contaminated
water is also a risk.
How Is Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning Diagnosed?
Seek immediate medical assistance if you or someone you know has
been exposed to this chemical without proper safety gear. If you’re
experiencing symptoms after contact, it may be a medical emergency.
Your doctor may test your blood, urine, or tissue samples to make
a diagnosis. However, the combination of symptoms and a history of exposure is
often a clear indicator of poisoning.
If your doctor suspects you have toxic hepatitis, they may order
blood tests or tissue biopsies to monitor your liver function.
How Is Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning
This type of poisoning isn’t reversible. There’s no known antidote.
Treatment can only minimize the effects of the poison and ease symptoms. In
extreme cases, life-saving measures may be necessary to control breathing and
regulate organ function. You may need artificial respiration.
If you’re poisoned, you’ll probably need to receive treatment in
the hospital. Medication can make you more comfortable. It might include pain
medication and anti-nausea drugs.
If you swallowed liquid carbon tetrachloride, you might need
surgery. Gastric lavage, or stomach pumping, can remove the poison from your
In cases of severe poisoning, your organs may have sustained
damage. If this happens, you might need dialysis or transplant surgery to save
When You Go Home
If you have organ damage, you may need to make lifestyle changes
when you return home. If you now have a damaged liver, you should avoid:
- fatty foods
- stimulant medications, such as ephedrine
You’ll also need to watch for any further symptoms of poisoning. Relapses
can sometimes occur.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
Your long-term outlook depends on the severity of your exposure.
Your overall health will also determine your recovery.
Minor poisoning in a healthy person may cause only temporary
discomfort. However, immediate treatment is essential. With larger exposures,
poisoning can have more serious and potentially fatal consequences. Early
treatment is key to your long-term outlook.
How Can I Prevent Carbon Tetrachloride
Proper safety precautions can prevent many cases of workplace poisoning.
These include wearing appropriate masks and gloves around hazardous compounds.
You shouldn’t use expired household cleaning agents, fire
extinguishers, or pesticides. Carbon tetrachloride was commonly used in these
products before 1986.
It’s also a good idea to avoid toxic waste sites. If you live
near a site where this chemical has been released, look into having your
drinking water tested for contamination.