Mad hatter’s disease is a form of mercury poisoning that affects the brain and nervous system. People can develop mercury poisoning by inhaling mercury vapors.
Mad hatter’s disease is caused by chronic mercury poisoning. It is characterized by emotional, mental, and behavioral changes, among other symptoms.
A doctor may describe the neurological changes as erethism or mercurial erethism.
In this article, we explore the causes, symptoms, and treatments of mercury poisoning. We also briefly look into the history of the saying “mad as a hatter.”
Mercury is a metal that can
Mercury is also a neurotoxin, and it can cause neurological damage that leads to hallucinations and psychosis.
- nervous system
- adrenal glands
- testes and prostate
When chronic mercury poisoning affects the brain and nervous system, a person might be said to have mad hatter’s disease. The doctor may instead refer to the neurological changes as erethism.
As the hatmakers inhaled mercury vapors over time, many experienced neurological symptoms of mercury poisoning. By 1837, “mad as a hatter” was a common saying.
Nearly 30 years later, Lewis Carroll published Alice in Wonderland, which contained the now-famous Mad Hatter character.
In the United States, hatmakers continued to use mercury until
There are early and late symptoms of mercury poisoning, depending on the level of exposure.
The neurological changes that characterize Mad hatter’s disease occur after long-term exposure.
Early symptoms of mercury poisoning may
- a rash
- skin itchiness
- muscle pain
- a metallic taste in the mouth
- sores or inflammation in the mouth
- stomach pain
- sleep disturbances
- a wet cough
Later symptoms of mercury poisoning may
- Inorganic: A person may be exposed through their job or through contact with mercury in dental fillings or cosmetics, for example.
- Organic: A person can be exposed to mercury in their diet.
- certain dental fillings
- contaminated fish
If a person has a cavity, a dentist may fill it with amalgam — a mixture of metals that contains mercury.
According to a
However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) state that these types of fillings are safe, starting at
Also, a person might be exposed to mercury through broken thermometers or blood pressure monitors.
A person may also be exposed to mercury at work, such as in factories or workshops that produce batteries, lamps, or light bulbs.
Mercury is a naturally occurring element in the Earth’s
Volcanic activity can cause mercury to enter the water, where it becomes methylmercury, and contaminate fish.
It is possible to get mercury poisoning by eating contaminated fish. Tuna, swordfish, and shark are more likely than other varieties to contain high concentrations of mercury.
To prevent mercury poisoning, fishing has been prohibited in
This is because crawling or playing on the floor can put them in close contact with mercury that has spilled from thermometers or other instruments.
A child’s smaller lung capacity can increase the risk associated with inhaling mercury vapors.
Also, a fetus may be exposed to mercury in the womb if the woman has consumed contaminated fish or shellfish.
The exposure can change the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system, going on to affect:
- the ability to think
- spatial skills
In addition, anyone who works in an environment that contains mercury has an increased risk of poisoning.
- bronchodilators, drugs that increase airflow in the lungs
If there is a high amount of mercury in the blood and urine, the doctor may also administer drugs called chelating agents, which help the body pass more of the metal in the urine.
According to a
If a person does not receive this treatment, however, they are at risk of:
- hypoxia, a condition in which the body’s tissues are starved of oxygen
- permanent lung damage
Anyone who believes that they may have been exposed to mercury, including as a vapor, should contact a doctor.
It is especially important to receive medical care if any symptoms of mercury poisoning are present.
Mad hatter’s disease refers to neurological symptoms of mercury poisoning over a long period of exposure.
Its name stems from the fact that hatmakers used to use a mercury compound to cure felt.
Mercury is still present in workplaces, such as factories that produce batteries or lamps. A person can also be exposed to it from a broken thermometer or other broken equipment.
In addition, mercury is present in some types of seafood and certain dental fillings. However, the FDA consider dental fillings that contain mercury to be safe for anyone over the
Anyone who comes into contact with liquid mercury should consult a doctor. Seek medical attention for any symptoms of mercury poisoning.
Mercury poisoning is reversible if a person receives treatment in time. If a person does not receive medical care, the poisoning can be fatal.