How do you get poisoned with cyanide? Cyanide can be breathed in, swallowed, or absorbed through the skin. Breathing in cyanide will cause rapid, harmful effects. If it is swallowed or absorbed through your skin, the effects of cyanide will occur more slowly. Following are some of the ways you may come in contact with cyanide:
* Building fire smoke: Cyanide gas may be created as a chemical reaction when a building is on fire. Cyanide is also used in some building parts. If those parts catch fire, cyanide gas escapes into the smoke.
* Contamination: Cyanide may leak into the ground if it is used either as an ingredient or in a process. If you live near a building where cyanide was used, the soil, groundwater, and well water may be contaminated (kun-TAM-ih-na-ted). Contaminated means that cyanide may have leaked into the soil, groundwater, or well water. Food grown in cyanide-contaminated dirt may retain some cyanide.
* Chemical warfare: People, groups, and countries may use cyanide to kill people or animals. To be most effective, cyanide must be used in an enclosed area. Cyanide spreads quickly in open air.
How does cyanide work? The air you breathe has oxygen in it. The oxygen goes deep into your lungs and is absorbed into your blood. Your red blood cells pick up the oxygen and carry it throughout your body. All your organs and tissues depend on your blood to bring oxygen to them.
* Cyanide causes a chemical change that keeps the oxygen from getting into your red blood cells.
* No matter how cyanide gets into your body, it works the same way. It does not have to be breathed in to cause this change. It can also be swallowed or absorbed through your skin.
What are the signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning? Signs and symptoms depend on how you are exposed to cyanide (breathing in, swallowing, or absorbing through the skin). Signs and symptoms also depend on how much cyanide there is, and how quickly cyanide gets into your body.
If you are exposed to small or moderate amounts of cyanide you will have the following signs and symptoms:
* Rapid (fast) breathing.
* Restlessness and decreased ability to settle down to tasks like watching TV or reading.
* Eye irritation (itching, burning).
* Nausea (feeling sick to your stomach) and vomiting (throwing up).
* Rapid heartbeat.
If you are exposed to a large amount of cyanide your signs and symptoms may also include:
* Convulsions (kun-VUL-shunz) (seizures).
* Very slow heartbeat.
* Loss of consciousness.
* Your breathing will stop.