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Wood alcohol

Alternative names

Methanol is an extremely toxic substance, which can cause fatal damage to the kidneys, as well as blindness. It also causes a disturbance in blood pH which can lead to multiple system failure and death. It is found in shellacs and paint removers.

Poisonous Ingredient

  • methanol

Where Found

  • paint remover
  • shellac
Note: This list may not be all inclusive.


  • body as a whole
    • weakness
    • leg cramps
    • convulsions
    • severe disturbance in blood pH leading to multi-organ failure
  • Kidneys
    • renal failure
  • respiratory
    • rapid, shallow breathing
    • stopped breathing (see breathing difficulties - first aid )
  • eyes, ears, nose, and throat
    • blurred vision
    • blindness
    • dilation of the pupils
  • skin
    • cyanosis (blue skin, lips, or fingernails)
  • gastrointestinal
    • nausea
    • vomiting
  • heart and blood vessels
    • low blood pressure
  • nervous system
    • coma
    • fatigue
    • headache
    • dizziness

Home Treatment

Seek emergency medical care immediately. DO NOT INDUCE VOMITING. Dilute by drinking water.

Before Calling Emergency

Determine the following information:
  • the patient's age, weight, and condition
  • the name of the product (as well as the ingredients and strength if known)
  • the time it was swallowed
  • the amount swallowed

Poison Control, or a local emergency number

See Poison Control centers for telephone numbers and addresses. Take the container with you to the emergency room.

What to expect at the emergency room

Some or all of the following procedures may be performed:

  • For swallowed poison
    • Immediate hemodialysis may be required for survival
    • Placement of a tube down the nose and into the stomach (a nasogastric tube, or an NG tube) to wash out the stomach
    • Activated charcoal administration
    • Endoscopy -- the placement of a camera down the throat to see the extent of burns to the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Give IV fluids
    • Admission to the hospital
    • Give an antidote
    • Treat the symptoms
  • For inhaled poisons
    • A breathing tube may need to be inserted
    • Oxygen
    • Admission to the hospital or to the intensive care unit
    • Bronchoscopy (inserting a camera down the throat into the airway to evaluate the extent of burns to the airway and lungs)
  • For skin exposure
    • Irrigation (washing of the skin), perhaps every few hours for several days
    • Skin debridement (surgical removal of burned skin)
    • Admission or transfer to a hospital that specializes in burn care

Expectations (prognosis)

Methanol is extremely toxic. As little as 2 TABLEspoonfuls can be fatal to a child, and 2 to 8 oz. can be fatal to an adult. The ultimate outcome for the patient will be dependent on how much was swallowed and how soon appropriate care was given.

Update Date: 4/16/2004

Cherlin Johnson, M.D., Department of Emergency Medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.

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Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT