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Plant fertilizer poisoning

Definition

Plant fertilizers and household plant foods are used to improve plant growth. Poisoning can occur if someone swallows these products.

Plant fertilizers are mildly poisonous if small amounts are swallowed. Larger amounts can be harmful to children. Touching a large amount of plant fertilizer may cause severe burns.

This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Alternative Names

Household plant food poisoning; Plant food - household - poisoning

Poisonous Ingredient

The ingredients in plant fertilizers that can be harmful are:

  • Nitrates
  • Nitrites

Where Found

Various fertilizers contain nitrates and nitrites.

Symptoms

Symptoms of plant fertilizer poisoning include:

  • Gray or blue-colored fingernails, lips, or palms of the hand
  • Burning skin
  • Burning of the throat, nose, and eyes
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Itchy skin
  • Low blood pressure
  • Seizures
  • Shortness of breath
  • Skin redness
  • Stomach pain
  • Stomach upset

Home Care

Get medical help right away. Do NOT make the person throw up unless poison control or a health care provider tells you to.

If the fertilizer is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the person swallowed the fertilizer, give them water or milk right away, if a provider tells you to do so. Do NOT give anything to drink if the person has symptoms that make it hard to swallow. These include vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness.

If the person breathed in the fertilizer, move them to fresh air right away.

Before Calling Emergency

Have this information ready:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (and ingredients, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

Take the container to the hospital with you, if possible.

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated.

The person may receive:

  • Breathing support, including tube through the mouth into the lungs and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Bronchoscopy: camera down the throat to see burns in the airways and lungs
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (by IV)
  • Medicine, called an antidote, to reverse the effect of the poison

Outlook (Prognosis)

Fertilizers can be dangerous in large amounts. They will affect the amount of oxygen that your brain and other organs receive.

How well someone does depends on how severe their poisoning is and how quickly they receive treatment. The faster medical help is given, the better the chance for recovery.

References

Belson M. Ammonia and nitrogen oxides. In: Shannon MW, Borron SW, Burns MJ, eds. Haddad and Winchester's Clinical Management of Poisoning and Drug Overdose. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2007:chap 97.

Levine MD, Zane R. Chemical injuries. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 64.

Zosel AE. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 143.


Review Date: 11/4/2015
Reviewed By: Jesse Borke, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, Attending Physician at FDR Medical Services/Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Buffalo, NY. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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