Formaldehyde is an organic compound with numerous industrial uses. Industrially, it is produced from the oxidation of methanol. At room temperature, it is a gas, which can be converted into a number of derivatives for industrial uses. Formaldehyde can be dissolved in water, and its aqueous solution is called 'formalin'. Formaldehyde is colorless and flammable, and it can be found in a number of products, where it can be labeled as methanal, methyl aldehyde, phenol formaldehyde, methylene oxide, oxymethylene, oxomethane, formalin, or urea.
A wide range of industrial and even household products can contain this chemical. Examples include paints, glues, air fresheners, carpet cleaners, dyes, disinfectants, cosmetics, nail enamels, plastics, shampoos, conditioners, and pharmaceutical products. Ingestion, as well as inhalation of this chemical can cause poisoning, the severity of which depends on the amount that is inhaled or ingested by a person.
Signs and Symptoms
Formaldehyde poisoning can be acute or chronic. An acute exposure refers to a single and short term exposure to a considerable amount of formaldehyde, which can produce short-term side effects. Contrary to this, a chronic exposure refers to the long-term, and continued exposure that can lead to some serious health problems.
Formaldehyde usually affects the respiratory system, and so, repeated exposure to this chemical can eventually cause bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia. Its ingestion can prove fatal, and hence calls for immediate medical attention. Formaldehyde poisoning can produce the following signs and symptoms:
- Irritation of the eyes, nose, and the throat
- Stuffy or runny nose
- Sore Throat
- Tightness in the chest
- Skin rash
- Difficulty in breathing
- Burnt stomach and burnt esophagus (when formaldehyde is ingested)
- Frequent and severe asthma attacks
- Hypotension (in severe cases)
- Arrhythmia (severe poisoning)
- Irregular breathing (in severe cases)
- Loss of consciousness (severe poisoning)
Apart from these, formaldehyde poisoning can lead to coma and death, especially if this chemical is ingested. Formaldehyde is also considered a potential carcinogen, and so, prolonged exposure to this chemical can raise the risk of developing cancer, especially lung and brain cancer. Children in particular are more likely to develop serious complications associated with formaldehyde poisoning.
The presence of formaldehyde in the body can be detected with the help of a patch test. For treating this condition, physicians can prescribe several medications or drugs available for this purpose. As the poisoning can lead to life-threatening complications, it is important to seek medical attention immediately on observing any of the aforementioned symptoms. Along with treatment, it is equally important to find out the root causes or the sources of formaldehyde exposure.
Formaldehyde poisoning can be prevented by limiting the use of products that contain this chemical. Such products should be especially kept out of the reach of children. Reading the labels of various products before making your purchases can help find out whether a particular product contains this chemical.
Nowadays, formaldehyde test kits are also available in the market. With the help of such a test kit, it is possible to examine the indoor air quality of your home and building. As far as occupational exposure is concerned, appropriate workplace safety measures need to be taken by industries to minimize the health hazards associated with the exposure to chemicals like formaldehyde.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.