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First Aid for Toluene Poisoning

Last updated March 2, 2018

Approved by: Maulik P. Purohit MD MPH

Toluene is a hydrocarbon that is present as a clear, colorless liquid at room temperature, with a characteristic smell. It is a toxic chemical that is sometimes used illegally as a recreational inhalant. Toluene Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. The exposure may be through inhalation, skin or eye contact, or following ingestion of the chemical.


What is Toluene Poisoning?

  • Toluene is a hydrocarbon that is present as a clear, colorless liquid at room temperature, with a characteristic smell. It is a toxic chemical that is sometimes used illegally as a recreational inhalant
  • Toluene has a wide range of commercial applications. It is used in the manufacture of benzene, polyurethane foam, TNT explosives, various drugs and medicines, paints and paint thinners, lab solvents, and in gasoline fuels
  • Toluene Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound. The exposure may be through inhalation, skin or eye contact, or following ingestion of 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)

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

  • Anisen Poisoning
  • Methylbenzene Poisoning
  • Phenylmethane Poisoning
  • Toluene Toxicity
  • Toluol Poisoning

What are the Causes of Toluene Poisoning?

  • Toluene Poisoning is caused by the ingestion of toluene (liquid). The exposure may also be through direct skin and eye contact, or upon inhaling the vapors
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Toluene is a poisonous liquid that is highly flammable

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 Toluene Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Toluene Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body, such as the digestive system, respiratory system, vascular system, nervous system, skin and ENT may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Toluene Poisoning may include:

  • Skin turns pale; dry skin that starts cracking
  • Respiratory difficulties, which may be severe if the chemical is inhaled
  • Chest pain and cough
  • Headache
  • Nausea, vomiting; appetite loss
  • Blood in stools and vomit
  • Stomach and abdominal pain that may be severe
  • Eye irritation and pain on contact with the substance
  • Vision abnormalities including blurry vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Irregular heart-rate
  • Decrease in blood pressure (hypotension)
  • Feeling dizzy or drowsy
  • Over-excitement, acting ‘drunk’
  • Lack of coordinated movements, walking difficulties
  • Loss of memory
  • Tremors (shaking)
  • Renal damage
  • Seizures
  • Shock and unconsciousness

How is First Aid administered for Toluene Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Toluene 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
  • 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:

  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Following this, a suitable skin or eye ointment may be used to treat the exposure
  • Surgical treatment for skin burns including removal of burnt skin
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Toluene Poisoning?

First aid for Toluene 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 Toluene Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Toluene 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
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms, with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good
  • However, severe poisoning can result in serious complications and the prognosis can be ascertained only on a case-by-case basis. Individuals, who sniff toluene compounds for prolonged periods, are known to be affected the most, with irreversible injury occurring to the central nervous system

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 Toluene Poisoning be Prevented?

Toluene Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any health, cosmetic, or 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
  • Those who work in industries using toluene should be aware of and comply with safe industrial practices
  • Working in well-ventilated spaces, when risk of exposure to toluene 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. 2, 2017
Last updated: March 2, 2018