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First Aid for Bug Spray Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 26, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Bug Spray Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any type of bug spray.

What is Bug Spray Poisoning?

  • Bug sprays are insecticides used against mosquitoes and other insects. The common bug sprays contain DEET, which is a toxic chemical
  • Bug Spray Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. The exposure may occur following skin/eye contact with bug spray, inhalation, or swallowing of the product
  • 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)

Bug Spray Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Anti-Bug Spray Poisoning
  • Bug-Repellant Poisoning
  • Bug Spray Toxicity
  • Mosquito and Insect Repellent Poisoning

What are the Causes of Bug Spray Poisoning?

  • Bug Spray Poisoning is caused by exposure to bug sprays. This may occur following a skin or eye exposure, inhalation of bug spray droplets, or swallowing of the chemical
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • DEET (N,N-diethyl-meta-toluamide) forms the most common and basic chemical ingredient of a majority of the insect-repellants. It is a toxic chemical
  • Pyrethrins are the other kind of insecticides that are much less toxic than DEET-based insecticides; but, these are also less effective on insects compared to DEET

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 Bug Spray Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Bug Spray Poisoning can vary from one individual to another and, it also depends on the type of bug-repellent used. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body, such as the respiratory system, digestive system, nervous system, vascular system, urinary system, skin and ENT may be affected.

DEET-based Bug Spray Poisoning: It can rapidly affect the central nervous system and present associated neurological symptoms. Children and infants may be severely affected by this type of poisoning.

The signs and symptoms of individuals who are subjected to mild poisoning or exposure may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal discomfort that may be moderate or severe
  • Itching, irritation, and redness of skin
  • Burning sensation in the eyes, nose, mouth, and throat

The signs and symptoms of individuals who are subjected to severe poisoning or exposure may include:

  • Skin burns with blister formation that may result in permanent scarring
  • Irregular or reduced heartbeat
  • Reduced blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Severe breathing difficulties
  • Mood changes and sleeplessness
  • Feeling dizzy, disoriented, or agitated
  • Unable to walk properly
  • Seizures; long-term skin contact in children can also result in seizures
  • Collapse and coma

The signs and symptoms of the affected individuals with pyrethrins-based Bug Spray Poisoning may include:

  • Stomach upsets, vomiting
  • Burning sensation, redness and watering from the eyes
  • Respiratory difficulties, coughing
  • Low response level
  • Shaking or tremors
  • Convulsions

How is First Aid administered for Bug Spray Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Bug Spray 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
  • Carefully remove the individual from the exposure area
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If skin exposure or involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Otherwise, following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give milk or water to drink
  • In case of symptoms that indicate difficulty in swallowing including vomiting or decreased alertness, do not give anything by way of mouth
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Dispose contaminated clothing, while wearing protective gloves/gear, based on suitable instruction of the poison control center
  • Always try to take the product bottle/container to the ER

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

  • Decontaminate the individual before starting treatment (usually done by the first responders), if necessary
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Administer suitable medication to counter effects of the toxin
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Bug Spray Poisoning?

First aid for Bug Spray 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 Bug Spray Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Bug Spray Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, type of substance consumed/exposed to (such as DEET or pyrethrin), time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • In general, individuals exposed to pyrethrin-based and DEET-based bug repellents usually recover with adequate treatment, in case of mild poisoning/exposure
  • Significant exposure to DEET-based bug repellents may adversely affect the prognosis. The prognosis, in such cases, depend on several parameters; the presence of severe symptoms may lead to brain injury and can result in death
  • Inhaling substantial amounts of bug spray can be a life-threatening situation that requires immediate medical attention

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 Bug Spray Poisoning be Prevented?

Bug Spray Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Keeping poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Always follow instructions for usage of any chemical products
  • Using appropriate protective wear (hand gloves, face masks) when working with such chemicals
  • Be 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: Aug. 3, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 26, 2018