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First Aid for Organic Mercury Poisoning

Last updated March 3, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Organic Mercury Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of compounds containing the chemical.

What is Organic Mercury Poisoning?

  • Mercury (Hg) is a heavy silver-grey liquid metal that exists in elemental, organic, and inorganic forms. The organic form of mercury is largely found in fish, such as sharks and king mackerel, in the form of methylmercury, and in some antiseptics
  • Organic Mercury Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of compounds containing the chemical
  • 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)

Organic Mercury Poisoning may be also referred to as Organic Mercury Toxicity.

What are the Causes of Organic Mercury Poisoning?

  • Organic Mercury Poisoning is caused by the ingestion/swallowing of compounds containing organic mercury. Exposure may also occur following inhalation of vapors or dust particles and via skin/eye
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • All forms of mercury are considered to be highly-toxic and exposure to mercury compounds are known to present severe symptoms and complications
  • Organic mercury is released during burning of coal. It is also found in some types of fish and certain skin creams (that are now banned in many countries)

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 Organic Mercury Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Organic Mercury 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 or inhalation of the compound. Children are severely affected from mercury poisoning than adults.

Typically, with Organic Mercury Poisoning, the signs and symptoms are known to manifest over many years and decades. The sudden appearance of significant symptoms is not known to take place, unless a significant quantity of organic mercury compounds is ingested at once.

The signs and symptoms of Organic Mercury Poisoning may include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea (blood in stool)
  • Cough, sore throat, and chest pain
  • Abdominal pain
  • Burning pain in the mouth, throat, food-pipe, and stomach
  • Skin and eye exposure may result in dermatitis (inflammation of the skin) and itching of eyes respectively
  • Breathing difficulties from inhaling organic mercury compound dust or vapors
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • When the toxic compound affects blood, it can result in malfunctioning of several internal organs and result in permanent renal injury

Chronic symptoms from exposure over many years may include the following:

  • Uncoordinated movements, staggering walk
  • Trembling and shaking
  • Feeling of numbness in certain areas of the body and skin
  • Vision abnormalities including double vision and partial/complete loss of vision
  • Seizures

In pregnant women, such a toxicity, especially occurring through eating mercury-contaminated fish, can be fatal for the developing fetus.

How is First Aid administered for Organic Mercury Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Organic Mercury 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; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • 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:

  • Monitoring of vital signs
  • Medically manage symptoms and provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Administer activated charcoal to avoid absorbance of the substance in the body
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line
  • Undertake kidney dialysis, if necessary
  • Additionally, in the case of Organic Mercury Poisoning, the following treatment is provided:
    • Administer suitable medication (chelators) to counter the effects of the toxin
    • Treatment using chelators may be long-term (for several months)

Who should administer First Aid for Organic Mercury Poisoning?

First aid for Organic Mercury 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 Organic Mercury Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Organic Mercury 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 and timely medical assistance are the key prognostic indicators. If early treatment is provided and suitable medication and support provided, the prognosis may be improved
  • Since most cases of toxicity from mercury in its organic form are the result of long-term ingestions, providing adequate and appropriate treatment may not be sufficient enough to prevent permanent injury to the organs, especially if the brain and/or kidneys are damaged

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 Organic Mercury Poisoning be Prevented?

Organic Mercury Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Suitably disposing any material or equipment that contains mercury and its compounds/salts
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations
  • 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. 28, 2017
Last updated: March 3, 2018