Cyanide poisoning results from exposure to various forms of cyanide, present in some types of smoke, industrial fumes, drugs, foods, and more. Symptoms include vomiting, headache, dizziness, and confusion. It can be fatal and needs urgent medical attention.
It can exist as a colorless gas, such as cyanogen chloride (CNCl) or hydrogen cyanide (HCN). Alternatively, it can be in a crystal form, such as potassium cyanide (KCN) or sodium cyanide (NaCN).
However, deaths from cyanide poisoning are rare. Out of 3,165 human exposures during 1993–2002, only 2.5% were fatal.
This article discusses how cyanide poisoning takes place and considers its symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. It also answers some common questions about cyanide poisoning.
Cyanide can also bind to other important enzymes and damage the nervous system through lipid peroxidation. The brain and heart are most sensitive to the effect of cyanide because they quickly metabolize oxygen.
Cyanide is a highly cytotoxic poison that produces symptoms of cyanide poisoning when the blood cyanide concentration reaches a certain level.
The onset of symptoms depends on the dose of cyanide and the duration and route of the exposure. Inhaling cyanide or exposure through intravenous routes leads to a more rapid onset of symptoms than the transdermal or oral routes. In general, without treatment, acute cyanide intoxication is lethal within
The symptoms of cyanide poisoning include:
- vomiting and nausea
- a headache
- rapid heart rate and breathing
- cardiac arrest
- loss of consciousness
- lung injury
- respiratory failure
Exposure to large amounts of cyanide can be fatal.
People experiencing symptoms of cyanide poisoning should immediately seek emergency medical treatment by calling 911 or going to the nearest emergency room.
A person may experience cyanide poisoning after exposure to several natural and synthetic substances.
- fire smoke from residential fires, as well as the combustion of:
- occupational exposure in several industries, such as:
- gold and silver extraction
- plastics and rubber processing
- certain drugs, including sodium nitroprusside
- food sources, such as:
- cigarette smoke
- accidentally ingesting acetonitrile-based products, which people use to remove artificial nails
Healthcare professionals may also recommend carboxyhemoglobin level tests if a person has been in a fire.
Cyanide poisoning is a medical emergency. Anyone who thinks that they are experiencing cyanide poisoning should immediately call 911.
Following a suspected exposure to cyanide gas, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend:
- moving away from the contaminated area
- removing clothing that may be contaminated
- washing the skin with soap and water
- waiting for emergency medical services to arrive
Healthcare professionals typically treat cyanide poisoning with cyanide antidotes. These antidotes belong to
A person who works with cyanide should follow all of the safety regulations that their employer provides.
Below are the answers to some common questions about cyanide poisoning.
What does cyanide do to the body?
By disrupting cellular respiration, it prevents the body from using oxygen and denies cells of a vital energy source.
Where is cyanide found?
Various foods contain cyanide, such as:
- cassava roots
- lima beans
However, the quantities of cyanide in these foods are sufficiently low that people do not have to avoid consuming them.
Additionally, cyanide is present in smoke from fire, cigarettes, and some industrial settings. Smoke inhalation from household fires is responsible for
How many people can smell cyanide?
Not everyone is able to smell cyanide. Approximately
Cyanide poisoning is a condition that occurs due to an excessive amount of cyanide in the body. It can cause serious health complications, such as seizures and loss of consciousness. Cyanide poisoning can be fatal.
People experiencing symptoms of cyanide poisoning should immediately call 911 or their local emergency number. If necessary, healthcare professionals can treat them with antidotes.