Antifreeze is a liquid that circulates through an internal combustion engine and keeps it cool by drawing out heat. In other words, it is an engine coolant. Antifreeze poisoning is caused when a human being or an animal consumes this liquid. The main reason behind the consumption of this cryoprotectant is the fact that it tastes sweet and is liked by children and pets like, cats and dogs, who are unaware of the poisoning effects.
What is Antifreeze Poisoning?
Antifreeze is a neon green colored liquid that is odorless, but has a sweet taste. It is often found on the ground under cars that leak during the summer months or have undergone maintenance work. Antifreeze spills are also common during winter months when many car owners perform maintenance work on their vehicles. The sweet taste of this liquid is often a strong lure for thirsty animals.
The poisoning in humans is most commonly reported in children who are unattended by their parents and consume this liquid due to its taste. The toxicity of the liquid comes from the metabolites of ethylene glycol. Hence, it is also known as ethylene glycol poisoning. Ethylene glycol itself is non toxic. However, it is metabolized in liver into toxic compounds like glycolate and oxalate. These compounds cause extensive tissue damage to various organs especially the kidneys.
The initial symptoms are like those that one has when one is intoxicated. These are commonly nausea, vomiting, dizziness, and uncoordinated movements. In fact, the poisoning proceeds through three stages with each stage having certain specific symptoms. The three stages and their symptoms are:
Stage One: Neurological and gastrointestinal symptoms start showing within half an hour to 12 hours of ingestion of antifreeze. These include dizziness, nausea, confusion, headache, slurred speech, convulsions, fatigue, stupor, and vomiting. These symptoms in humans start showing while ethylene glycol is being broken down into its toxic components. Some may even pass into coma.
Stage Two: Antifreeze poisoning enters its second stage within 12 to 24 hours of antifreeze consumption. Increased heart rate, high blood pressure, and muscle spasms occur during this time. In case of serious poisoning, severe metabolic acidosis takes place, which is accompanied with hyperventilation and multiple organ failure. If adequate treatment is not made available to the victim, he may also die at this stage.
Stage Three: Within 24 hours to 72 hours of ethylene glycol ingestion, the toxic metabolites attack the kidneys. This stage is characterized by decreased or no production of urine, presence of red blood cells (blood) in urine, lower back pain and acute kidney failure.
Call the emergency as soon as you come to know of antifreeze consumption by an individual. Do not try to induce vomiting in the person unless instructed by a health care professional. Try to determine the time and amount of antifreeze that was consumed. Ensure that you know the name of the brand that was ingested and also the ingredients and strength of it. All this information will help the health care professional in choosing the correct line of treatment. In case the person shows signs of cardiac arrest or shock, administer CPR and first aid.
As soon as the patient reaches the hospital, blood and urine tests is done to check the level of poisoning by the presence of certain compounds. His vital signs like temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate will be closely monitored. Depending upon the extent of poisoning, doctors may opt to wash the stomach, introduce fluids through vein, perform dialysis, or try to control the effects of poisoning by administering medicines that would treat the symptoms as well as inhibit metabolism of ethylene glycol.
Poisoning Caused by Swallowing Antifreeze in Dogs and Cats
Poisoning in cats and dogs gets a separate mention because cases of antifreeze poisoning are more common in animals than in human beings. Progression of toxicity of ethylene glycol is almost the same in animals and human beings and so are the symptoms. However, there are some typical signs that most dog owners have reported as antifreeze poisoning symptoms in dogs and cats. Initial symptoms are those of alcohol intoxication. They may stagger, appear depressed, and have seizures in the first couple of hours.
Poisoned animals also drink lots of water and urinate excessively. Although they may appear to be better after they have passed this stage, conditions of cats after one day and that of dogs after two days start deteriorating. They may develop diarrhea, mouth ulcer, and weakness. Some signs of kidney failure like depression and vomiting become evident. They either don't pass any urine or the amount decreases drastically.
Blood and urine tests are done by veterinarians to determine the level of poisoning. In case the animal has been taken to the vet within a few hours of having consumed the liquid, then the vet may induce vomiting and place charcoal in the stomach to bind antifreeze in the intestine. The pet may also be prescribed drugs that prevent liver from breaking ethylene glycol to its toxic components. Dialysis has to be performed in case the kidney has been affected by the poisonous metabolites of ethylene glycol.
Be it human beings or animals, it is best to get medical help at the earliest after antifreeze ingestion is suspected. An individual has the best chance of recovering from poisoning if he gets medical help before ethylene glycol is broken into its toxic metabolites. If too much delay is made in getting treatment, it can result in death of an individual.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.