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First Aid for Antifreeze Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 22, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Antifreeze Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound.

What is Antifreeze Poisoning?

  • An antifreeze is chemical substance that is used to reduce the freezing point of water or water-based liquids, thereby preventing it from freezing/ice formation. Since, an antifreeze is generally used to cool motor engines, it is also referred to as an engine coolant
  • Antifreeze Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Antifreeze Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Antifreeze Toxicity
  • Engine Coolant Poisoning

What are the Causes of Antifreeze Poisoning?

  • Antifreeze Poisoning is caused by the ingestion/swallowing of antifreeze
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • There are several types of antifreeze solutions. These may contain chemicals including methanol (methyl alcohol), ethylene glycol, propylene glycol, glycerol, and certain corrosion inhibiting compounds
  • Some compounds are highly-toxic in nature and may cause immediate and severe symptoms

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body may be affected. The poisoning may occur due to swallowing the compound or breathing-in of antifreeze compound fumes and vapors.

The signs and symptoms of Antifreeze Poisoning may include:

  • Headache, fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties (including absence of breathing)
  • Mumbling, slurring of speech
  • Unable to walk properly, lack of coordination
  • Low response level
  • Bluish discoloration of skin on the lips and beneath the fingernails
  • Urinary difficulties (reduced urine output or no urine production)
  • Hematuria or blood in urine
  • Increased heart-rate and heart rhythms
  • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Muscle cramps, especially affecting the legs
  • Vision abnormalities and blurred vision or vision loss
  • Seizures
  • Collapse, loss of consciousness
  • Coma

How is First Aid administered for Antifreeze Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Antifreeze Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • Administer CPR, if necessary
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer suitable medication to counter the effects of the substance
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line
  • In case the kidneys are affected, urinary dialysis may be necessary

Who should administer First Aid for Antifreeze Poisoning?

First aid for Antifreeze Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Antifreeze Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Antifreeze Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • Severity of the poisoning, the toxic ingredient present in the antifreeze solution, and timely medical assistance are the key prognostic indicators. Generally, the prognosis of Antifreeze Poisoning is variable and can be assessed only on a case-by-case basis
    • Swallowing methanol can be extremely hazardous to one’s health. A small quantity of the substance can result in death
    • In case of ethylene glycol, severe complications, such as irreversible damage to the kidneys, brain, and loss of vision, may develop. Fatalities are usually reported within 24 hours of ingestion
  • In many cases, the central nervous system may be permanently damaged, which can lead to mental disabilities, blindness, muscle rigidity, and involuntary movements

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Antifreeze Poisoning be Prevented?

Antifreeze Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Keeping all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations
  • Always following instructions for usage of any household products
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 7, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 22, 2018