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Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning

What Is Carbon Tetrachloride Poisoning?

Carbon tetrachloride is a man-made compound. It appears in certain:

  • dry-cleaning agents
  • refrigerants
  • cleaners
  • pesticides

Due to its high toxicity, it’s no longer present in most household products.

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 Tetrachloride Poisoning?

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
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • blurred vision
  • warmth in your stomach if you ingested liquid carbon tetrachloride

Exposure to extremely high or concentrated doses may cause:

  • vomiting
  • stomach pain
  • death

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
  • jaundice
  • back pain
  • hypertension
  • organ failure
  • death

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 Poisoning?

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 Treated?

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 body.

In cases of severe poisoning, your organs may have sustained damage. If this happens, you might need dialysis or transplant surgery to save your life.

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
  • alcohol
  • 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 Poisoning?

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.

Content licensed from:

Written by: Marissa Selner and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Medically reviewed on: Jan 27, 2016: Steve Kim, MD

This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to replace the care and information received from your health care provider. Please consult a health care professional with any health concerns you may have.
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