Skip to main content

Nerve Gas Poisoning

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 2, 2022.

What is nerve gas poisoning?

Nerve gas causes poisoning by damaging nerves that help you breathe, move, and digest food. Nerve gas is a chemical found in pesticides. You may be exposed to nerve gas by breathing the fumes or getting it on your skin. This may happen during an accidental spill or intentional release to cause harm. Nerve gas may cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.

What are the signs and symptoms of nerve gas poisoning?

Symptoms may start immediately if you have inhaled or been exposed to higher amounts of nerve gas:

  • Runny nose and eyes
  • Small pupils or blurry vision
  • Coughing, chest tightness, wheezing, or shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain or diarrhea
  • Fatigue, headache, or sweating
  • Muscle twitching or a seizure

How is nerve gas poisoning treated?

Healthcare providers may set up a center or location where you can be treated. This may help to keep the nerve gas in one place and keep it from spreading.

  • Decontamination: You must remove clothing that has nerve gas on it. Clothes, wallets, purses, jewelry, and other belongings may be taken for decontamination. Some items may need to be thrown away.
  • Antidote: This is a medicine given to reverse your signs and symptoms. Even with treatment, you may have severe and long-lasting nerve or brain damage.
  • Anticonvulsant medicine: This may be given to prevent or stop a convulsion.

What should I do if I am exposed to nerve gas?

  • Move to a higher area: Climb to the top floor of a building, or go to the top of a hill. Nerve gas is heavier than air and will settle in low-lying areas, such as ditches and basements.
  • Hold your breath and move to a safer spot: Try to hold your breath without breathing in first. Hold your breath until you can get to a safer spot. If you are outside, go inside. Close all the doors and windows. Shut off heating or air conditioning to keep outside air from coming in.
  • Remove clothing: Do not shake your clothing. Put the items in a bag if you have one, and tie or tightly close the top. Ask your healthcare provider if and how you should dispose of the bag. If you do not have a bag, leave them in a pile and do not pick them up.
  • Wash your entire body: Take a shower as soon as possible. Use soap and water or cleaning solutions provided by healthcare providers. Wash your hair. Gently wash your skin. Do not scrub, because this may cause more nerve gas to be absorbed into your skin.
  • Use powder if you cannot wash: Cover your skin and hair with an absorbent powder, such as talcum powder or baking flour. Stand over a towel or other fabric. Gently pat the powder on your skin to absorb the liquid. When you are finished, put the fabric you stood on into a bag and tightly close it. Ask your healthcare provider if and how you should dispose of the bag.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You think you have been exposed to a nerve gas.

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.

© Copyright IBM Corporation 2022 Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or IBM Watson Health

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.