Nicotine Poisoning: Signs, Symptoms, and Treatment

Photo credit: Bigstockphoto
Photo credit: Bigstockphoto

Nicotine is the active compound of tobacco. It’s a yellowish or colorless liquid used in insecticides. The chemical composition of nicotine is comprised mostly of nitrogen and works as an anti-herbivore chemical. When taken in small doses, it acts as stimulant, similar to how caffeine affects the body. However, when excessive amount of nicotine gets in the system, it could block the autonomic nerve as well as cause skeletal muscle breakdown.

Nicotine is the compound that makes cigarette smoking highly addictive. Apart from smoking cigarettes, the chemical is obtained through chewing gums, patches, and second-hand smoking. Smokers tend to be vulnerable to nicotine poisoning but children are just as prone to nicotine overdose because they have lower tolerance to the substance. In addition, you don’t need to smoke cigarettes to overdose on nicotine. Field workers that harvest tobacco typically suffer from nicotine poisoning. The substance will enter the body through the skin.

Signs and Symptoms of Nicotine Poisoning

Nicotine poisoning occurs in two stages. The first stage will result in mild symptoms such as tremors, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pains, lack of muscle coordination, slurred speech, and difficulty swallowing. Other symptoms include headaches and dizziness.

The second stage of nicotine overdose results in very dangerous symptoms ranging from seizures to central nervous system depression, coma, and even respiratory failure.

Treatment for Nicotine Poisoning

If you suspect poisoning and not overdose, do not throw up or induce vomiting as this could worsen the symptoms. If you’ve been poisoned through the skin, wash the affected area with soap and water for at least 15 minutes.

Usually, mild cases or stage one of nicotine poisoning don’t require hospitalization. Because symptoms are mild, they will go away on their own after several hours. Just continue to monitor the condition of the patient every hour until the symptoms abate. On the other hand, if you or the patient is suffering from a nicotine overdose, don’t waste time and ask for immediate medical assistance.

When treating a patient suffering from either nicotine poisoning or nicotine overdose, it’s important to determine the age, weight, and health condition of the patient as well as how the poison was acquired.

Usually, a person suffering from nicotine poisoning will be asked to consume activated charcoal to extract the poison from the body. Certain medications will also be needed to prevent the progression of the symptoms. In cases wherein the patient is panicking, he will be sedated using Xanax or Valium.

Do not ignore nicotine poisoning signs or symptoms or it could lead to potentially serious consequences. Nicotine overdose could be fatal if left untreated. In severe cases of poisoning, nicotine will kill a person within the first hour so act fast.

If you have nicotine gums, nicotine patches, or cigarettes at home, always keep it out of reach of children. To be on the safe side, keep your nicotine-based products under lock and key. Finally, it pays to be prepared. Keep a first aid kid in your home and include activated charcoal.