Poisoning from an overdose of mercury.

Poisonous Ingredient 


Where Found 

  • Glass thermometers  
  • Some fireworks  
  • Some paints  
  • Some antiseptics  
  • Some fungicides

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.


  • Body as a whole       o Thirst       o Metallic taste       o Decreased urine output (may stop completely)       o Salivation       o Mouth sores       o Shock  
  • Respiratory       o Extreme difficulty breathing       o Swelling within the throat (may be severe)  
  • Gastrointestinal       o Abdominal pain (severe)       o Vomiting       o Bloody diarrhea

Home Treatment 

Elemental mercury, like the type found in glass thermometers, is a liquid at room temperature. It is possible to inhale or ingest vapors from liquid mercury. In most forms mercury can be highly toxic, and you should avoid ingesting, inhaling, or touching mercury.

Wash exposed skin with soap and water. In the case of exposure, call Poison Control for guidance. Proper cleanup of mercury is essential to prevent further exposure.

If instructed to induce Vomiting (emesis), proceed as follows or as otherwise instructed:

  • Give the usual dose of ipecac syrup: 15 mL (1 tablespoon) for children and 30 mL (2 tablespoons) for an adult.  
  • Follow with 1/2 cup (4 oz) of water for children or 8-12 oz. of water for adults.  
  • Repeat if Vomiting has not occurred in 1/2 hour.

Before Calling Emergency 

Determine the following:

  • The patient’s age, weight, and condition  
  • The name of the product (ingredients and strengths if known)  
  • The time it was swallowed, inhaled, or touched  
  • The amount swallowed, inhaled, or touched

Poison Control, or a local emergency number 

The Poison Control or local emergency telephone representative will instruct you if it is necessary to take the patient to the hospital. 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:

  • The use of gastric lavage  
  • Induction of emesis  
  • Administration of activated charcoal  
  • Administration of a cathartic (a medication used to evacuate the bowels)  
  • Administration of an IV or oral antidote

Expectations (prognosis) 

Severity of symptoms and long-term effects are dependent on the amount of exposure and the time to treatment. It is important to be evaluated by a physician for any suspected mercury exposure. Mercury causes neurologic effects, including irritability, developmental delay, or psychosis.

With some forms or mercury, such as mercuric chloride, deaths have occurred. Any closure of the throat or extreme difficulty breathing is an emergency situation.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Brenda A. Kuper, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.