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The symptoms of human poisoning vary widely, depending on the specific type of toxic substance that has been consumed or inhaled. Medical professionals can best treat cases of poisoning if they know what type of toxin has been ingested or inhaled. Some of the more-widely diagnosed causes of poisoning in humans include salmonella, mercury, alcohol and carbon monoxide.
Telltale Signs of Poisoning
The National Ag Safety Database lists a number of warning signs that almost always point to poisoning of some kind. These include an unusual odor on the patient's breath; unusual stains or odors on the patient's clothing; chemical or drug containers that are close at hand and not in their usual storage place; and one or more of the following symptoms with no other obvious causative agent: drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, irritability, behavioral changes, fearfulness, drooling and sweating.
Salmonella poisoning is one of the most common forms of food poisoning, but food poisoning also can be caused by other types of bacteria, as well as viral or parasitic agents. The onset of symptoms from salmonella poisoning is usually quite sudden and may begin within hours of eating contaminated food but could appear up to three days later. Symptoms are likely to include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, headache and general weakness.
Mercury poisoning can occur as a result of inhaling elemental mercury or by eating food-most notably fish-that has been contaminated with mercury. The inhalation of elemental mercury, which can be found in glass thermometers, fluorescent light bulbs, old dental fillings and electrical switches, is very serious and almost certain to cause a sudden onset of symptoms. These may include breathing difficulty, a hacking cough, metallic taste in the mouth, vomiting and gums that are inflamed and possibly bleeding. The consumption of mercury-contaminated food may trigger such symptoms as tremor, movement difficulties, memory and vision problems, numbness or pain in various parts of the body, and seizure.
The earliest signs of alcohol poisoning are usually nausea and vomiting, which are likely to be followed by one or more of the following symptoms: mental confusion, difficulty in waking, irregular breathing, loss of consciousness, pale or bluish skin color, little reaction to painful stimuli and seizure.
Carbon-monoxide-poisoning symptoms may include shortness of breath, mild headache and/or nausea, dizziness and lightheadedness. If you suspect this form of poisoning, remove the affected person from the source of the carbon monoxide and summon medical help immediately.
What to Do
The most important thing to do in the case of any poisoning is to call for emergency medical aid. If the patient indicates or you see signs that the toxin was ingested and you have access to an emetic, such as syrup of ipecac, give this to the patient at the dosage recommended on the package to induce vomiting. This is a measure to be taken only after help is summoned.