Formaldehyde Poisoning

Formaldehyde poisoning is a condition brought about when you inhale fumes of formaldehyde. This can happen when you work directly with formaldehyde or use equipment cleaned with formaldehyde. Other names for formaldehyde poisoning are formaldehyde toxicity, formaldehyde exposure and formalin intoxication.

Formaldehyde poisoning affects all population irrespective of gender. Those people who are exposed to formaldehyde at work are at risk of poisoning if there is no air filtering facilities to protect them.

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Formaldehyde poisoning can occur in several ways such as:

  • Working with products made of formaldehyde: Formaldehyde poisoning can occur when you work with products made with formaldehyde such as foam insulation and chip board.
  • Swallowing formaldehyde: You can be poisoned when you accidentally swallow or ingest formaldehyde.
  • Inhaling fumes: Formaldehyde poisoning can also occur when you inhale fumes from formaldehyde. This is common when you work at a factory that manufactures products that contain formaldehyde or produce the chemical.
  • During treatment: Formaldehyde poisoning can happen when it is administered to patients as formalin packs to treat cysts. In some cases, formalin, a form of formaldehyde is used to as a cleansing agent for dialysis machines and other hospital facilities. If the chemical is not removed properly before the next patient, he/she may inhale the fumes.

Symptoms of Formaldehyde Poisoning

Symptoms of formaldehyde poisoning vary among individuals and depend on the mode of poisoning. You may experience irritations in your eyes and breathing difficulties. You may also feel irritations on your skin as well as headache.

In case you swallow formaldehyde, you will feel burns in your stomach and esophagus. You may also experience loss of red blood cells as a result of poisoning from dialysis machines. Loss of red blood cells is known as acute hemolysis.

In severe cases, you may have low blood pressure and unusual heart rhythm. You may also experience irregular breathing as well as restlessness and unconsciousness.

Related Conditions

There are several disorders whose symptoms are similar to formaldehyde poisoning and can pose challenges during diagnosis. These conditions include:

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  • Heavy metal poisoning: Exposure to heavy metals can cause poisoning. This can occur at work especially at the factory that manufactures heavy metals such as lead, copper, zinc, etc. It can also occur when you inhale air that is contaminated with particles of heavy metals. You may also ingest metals from the food you eat or water. The signs and symptoms of heavy metal poisoning may vary according to the type of metal you are exposed to.
  • Berylliosis poisoning: It is a type of poisoning that result from inhaling beryllium fumes or smoke. It affects your lungs which makes your coughing violent and tiresome. It also makes it difficult for you to breathe and blood may appear in the sputum or mucous. Berylliosis poisoning can cause red patches to develop on your skin.
  • Arsenic poisoning: This type of poisoning can occur when you work at a factory that produces pesticides or you directly use this chemical by inhaling it. Exposure to arsenic or gas that comes from it can cause confusion, headache, seizures and even death.


There are no specific tests for assessing formaldehyde poisoning. But your doctor may perform the following diagnosis:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor will evaluate your symptoms and medical history in order to understand the problem. Your doctor may want to know your recent exposure to any chemical or metal.
  • Pulmonary function test: Your doctor may order several tests to evaluate how your lungs are functioning.
  • Chest X-rays: This test is done so as to find out issues in your chest and lungs.
  • Bronchoscopy: Your doctor may use this procedure to examine your airways and lungs.


Formaldehyde poisoning can cause undesirable complications such as:

  • Asthma: Overexposure to formaldehyde can lead to asthma.
  • Cancer: This chemical can cause malignant tumors to develop in your body.
  • Pneumonia and bronchitis: Inhaling formaldehyde fumes can make you get pneumonia and bronchitis.

Other complications include organ failure and blindness.

Formaldehyde poisoning Treatment

The initial step in treating formaldehyde poisoning is to limit your exposure to the chemical. The following treatment options may be used to alleviate symptoms of chemical poisoning:

  • Saline solution: Flush your eyes with saline solution to ease irritations.
  • Antibiotic: Use antibiotic eye drop to prevent infections in your eyes.
  • Oxygen therapy: This therapy is used to ensure that you have sufficient oxygen.
  • Use activated charcoal, milk or water: Use these substances to neutralize formaldehyde when it has been swallowed.


There are simple measures you can take to prevent formaldehyde poisoning such as:

  • While at home ensure there is sufficient ventilation that allows fresh air in the house.
  • Maintain the right temperature in the house.
  • Use air conditioners to reduce humidity in the house
  • At work, employees must be protected against exposure to formaldehyde. They should wear protective clothing such as aprons, gloves and face masks as well as eye protecting material.
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