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Cyanide Poisoning

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is cyanide poisoning?

Cyanide poisoning is a condition that develops when you inhale, touch, or swallow cyanide. Cyanide is a poisonous chemical gas that prevents your body from absorbing oxygen. The lack of oxygen can damage your organs and be life-threatening.

Where is cyanide found?

  • Factories that make plastics, paper, jewelry, or textiles
  • In the soil, either naturally or from industrial processes
  • Smoke from a fire or cigarette, or exhaust from a car
  • Rarely, it could be used as an act of terrorism

What are the signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning?

  • Headache, dizziness, or confusion
  • Anxiety or restlessness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Chest pain or a fast heartbeat
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Seizures

What should I do if I am exposed to cyanide?

Seek medical care right away, even if you are not sure you were exposed.

  • Do not make yourself vomit if you have swallowed cyanide. Cyanide in your vomit could contaminate others, or damage your airway.
  • Remove and bag all items on your body, including clothes, contacts or glasses, and jewelry. Try not to touch affected items with bare hands, or try to touch only a small part of each item. Put affected items into a bag. Put the bagged items into another bag. Let emergency responders take care of the bags. Do not put affected contacts back in, even if they have been rinsed. Eyeglasses can be washed and worn again.
  • Wash your hair and body for 20 minutes with soap and water, and rinse thoroughly. Rinse your eyes with water for 5-15 minutes if they have been exposed to cyanide.

How is cyanide poisoning diagnosed?

Blood tests will be done to check your organ function and oxygen level.

How is cyanide poisoning treated?

  • Oxygen will be given to help restore oxygen to your cells, and to prevent more damage.
  • Cyanide antidotes will be used to bind with the cyanide so your body can remove it through your urine.
  • Charcoal may be used to absorb cyanide that you have swallowed.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You think or know you were exposed to cyanide.
  • You have sudden shortness of breath, chest pain, or a fast heartbeat.
  • You have dizziness or confusion.
  • You have a seizure.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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