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Formaldehyde Poisoning

Formaldehyde toxicity or poisoning is a medical emergency and needs to be heeded to immediately. Read on to know more about the causes, symptoms and treatment of this condition.
Formaldehyde is a gas obtained from oxidation of methanol. It is colorless, flammable and poisonous gas which can suffocate the inhaler. The systematic name of formaldehyde is methanal and its chemical formula is CH2O. Formaldehyde is used for several industrial as well as chemical purposes. However, we may not be aware, but, its applications are also found in several household articles and products. Coming in contact with formaldehyde, inhaling or ingesting it can result in poisoning, which is injurious to health.

An Overview on Formaldehyde Poisoning
Formalin, one of the various forms of formaldehyde, is used as a preservative, mostly for embalming or preserving a dead body. Therefore, pathologists and anatomists are constantly in contact with formalin. Formaldehyde can be present in a product under the name of methanal, methyl aldehyde, methylene oxide, phenol formaldehyde, oxymethylene, oxomethane or urea. The products that contain formaldehyde or forms of it are glues and adhesives, air fresheners, carpet cleaners, cosmetics, dyes, disinfectants, household antiseptics, hair conditioners, mouth washes, paint, plastics, shampoos and other pharmaceutical products. People working in chemical industries are exposed to this gas regularly, and hence, are at a higher risk of suffering from this condition. On the other hand, frequent use of the above mentioned products can unknowingly cause harm to our body. Formaldehyde poisoning is also known as formaldehyde exposure, formaldehyde toxicity, formalin toxicity and formalin intoxication.

Symptoms
Symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning depend on the amount inhaled or ingested by the person. Common symptoms include tightness in chest, nausea, irritation in eyes and nose, headache, skin rash, wheezing, etc. Long time exposure to this gas can result in respiratory diseases like asthma, bronchitis and pneumonia. Similarly, people suffering from asthma have frequent and severe attacks when they come in contact with formaldehyde. Frequent exposure or inhalation of formaldehyde increases the risk of lung and brain cancer in people. Children are more prone to develop complications due to formaldehyde exposure as they have a weakened immune system. On the other hand, ingestion of formaldehyde is most poisonous as it can result in a coma or even death.

Treatment
It is very important to diagnose the exact cause of poisoning before commencing the treatment. Tests like the patch test is helpful in determining the presence of formaldehyde in a person's body. There are several medications and drugs available that help in treating formaldehyde poisoning. Sometimes, alternative medication and herbal products are also recommended by the doctors to treat formaldehyde toxicity. However, it is essential to identify the root cause of this poisoning in order to get rid of it and prevent it from occurring again. As mentioned above, most of the household products may contain formaldehyde or its forms, hence, one should be careful while using these products and also keep them out of children's reach. Secondly, people working in chemical industries who come in contact with formaldehyde on a daily basis, should make use of safety masks and other safety measures to prevent intoxication.

As a concluding note, one should remember that it is essential to identify the symptoms in order to get the condition treated as soon as possible. Also, one should know that formaldehyde ingestion can result in a person's death and hence, it is essential to follow precautionary measures while using it!
By Madhura Pandit
Published: 3/17/2010
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