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Methanol poisoning

Wood alcohol poisoning

Methanol is a nondrinking type of alcohol used for industrial and automotive purposes. This article discusses poisoning from an overdose of methanol.

This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Poisonous Ingredient

Methyl alcohol

Where Found

Methanol is found in:

  • Antifreeze
  • Canned heating sources
  • Copy machine fluids
  • De-icing fluid
  • Fuel additives (octane boosters)
  • Paint remover or thinner
  • Shellac
  • Varnish
  • Windshield wiper fluid

Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.

Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

Airway and lungs:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • No breathing

Eyes:

  • Blindness, complete or partial, sometimes described as "snow blindness"
  • Blurred vision
  • Dilation (widening) of the pupils

Heart and blood:

  • Low blood pressure

Nervous system:

  • Agitated behavior
  • Coma (unresponsiveness)
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty walking
  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Seizures

Skin and nails:

  • Bluish-colored lips and fingernails

Stomach and intestines:

  • Abdominal pain (severe)
  • Diarrhea
  • Liver problems, including jaundice (yellow skin) and bleeding
  • Nausea
  • Pancreatitis (nausea, vomiting, and abdominal pain)
  • Vomiting, sometimes bloody

Other:

  • Fatigue
  • Leg cramps
  • Weakness

Home Care

Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.

Before Calling Emergency

The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:

  • Activated charcoal
  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • CT (computerized tomography, or advanced imaging) scan
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms, including antidotes to reverse the effect of the poison (fomepizole or ethanol)
  • Tube through the nose to remove remaining poison, if the person is seen within 60 minutes after swallowing it

Because rapid removal of methanol is a key to treatment success and survival, the person will likely need dialysis (kidney machine).

Outlook (Prognosis)

Methanol is extremely poisonous. As little as 2 tablespoons (30 milliliters) can be deadly to a child. About 2 to 8 ounces (60 to 240 milliliters) can be deadly for an adult. Blindness is common and often permanent despite medical care. Intake of methanol affects multiple organs. Organ damage may be permanent. How well the person does depends on how much poison is swallowed and how soon treatment is received.

References

Kostic MA. Poisoning. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 63.

Nelson ME. Toxic alcohols. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 141.

Pincus MR, Bluth MH, Abraham NZ. Toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry's Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 23.

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          Tests for Methanol poisoning

           
           

          Review Date: 1/12/2019

          Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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