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First Aid for Copper Poisoning

Last updated March 3, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD, MPH

Copper Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of copper containing compounds.

What is Copper Poisoning?

  • Copper (Cu) is a relatively soft, red-orange metal that is obtained naturally from the earth. It is necessary in trace amounts by the human body for proper functioning of the enzyme systems
  • Copper is used in the manufacture of electrical wires and cables, jewelry, antimicrobial compounds including fungicides and insecticides, in marine applications and structures, etc.
  • Copper Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of copper containing compounds
  • 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)

Copper Poisoning may be variously referred to as the following:

  • Copper Toxicity
  • Copperiedus
  • Cu Poisoning

What are the Causes of Copper Poisoning?

  • Copper Poisoning is caused by the ingestion (or inhalation of fumes, vapors, or fine dust) of copper compounds
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Copper Toxicity may take place from consuming water (which is slightly acidic) that runs through copper pipes. Cooking certain acidic foods in copper vessels may cause copper to leach into the food. Also, copper may accumulate in the body following regular use of certain oral contraceptives (due to hormonal effect)
  • Copper is also available as mineral supplements; taking excess amounts of such medication can result in an overdose

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 Copper Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of acute Copper Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. The signs and symptoms may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting (including blood) from ingesting substantial amounts of copper compounds
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of skin and white of the eye (termed as jaundice)
  • Dark-colored feces (melena)
  • Direct and prolonged contact with copper may result in green-colored hair
  • Inhalation of copper fumes and copper dust can lead to a condition known as metal fume fever (MFF) with symptoms that include:
    • Headaches, lethargy and weakness
    • Fever and chills
    • Chest pain and coughing
    • Taste of metal in the mouth

Chronic exposure to copper, especially in an industrial setting, can result in severe symptoms and lung, liver, kidney, and neurological complications. Individuals with the genetic condition glucose-6-phosphate deficiency disorder are also at a higher risk for severe symptoms and complications.

How is First Aid administered for Copper Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Copper Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number, 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; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If exposure of the skin has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water
  • 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

In case of any emergencies, the emergency medical health professional may take the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administration of medication to counter the effects of the ingested substance
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Wash eyes and skin repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining compound
  • Topical applications for skin exposure may be administered
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line, if necessary
  • Renal dialysis, if blood is affected by Copper Toxicity

Who should administer First Aid for Copper Poisoning?

First aid for Copper 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 Copper Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Copper 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. It is also dependent on whether the toxic effects of copper are from acute or chronic exposure
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms, with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good
  • However, chronic exposure to the substance can lead to several complications and irreversible damage, depending on the duration and mode of exposure

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 Copper Poisoning be Prevented?

Copper Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any household products
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations
  • Using appropriate protective wear when working with such chemicals (such as face masks and hand gloves)
  • Those who work in industries using copper should be aware of and comply with safe industrial practices
  • Working in well-ventilated spaces, when risk of exposure to copper dust is present
  • 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: Aug. 27, 2017
Last updated: March 3, 2018