If you suspect mercury poisoning, immediately call the National Poison Control Center on 1-800-222-1222 for further instructions.
Mercury poisoning, also referred to as hydrargyria or mercuralism, is a condition triggered by exposure to mercury or any of its compounds. A heavy metal that occurs in various forms, mercury is known to produce several toxic effects on the body, including severe damage to brain or kidney that may eventually result in death. Additionally, the metal is also responsible for diseases like the Hunter-Russell syndrome and acrodynia.
Taking into consideration the toxicity of mercury, there is no questioning the fact that being well-versed with information on mercury poisoning―its treatment options in particular―is a definite advantage.
Symptoms of Mercury Poisoning
Mercury exists in three chemical forms: methylmercury, elemental mercury, and mercury compounds (both, organic and inorganic). While exposure to methylmercury can result in impairment of peripheral vision, lack of coordination in movement, speech impairment, and muscle weakness, exposure to elemental mercury cause mood swings, irritability, nervousness, insomnia, headache, and neuromuscular changes. At higher levels though, even elemental mercury can trigger kidney or lung failure, eventually leading to death.
As for exposure to inorganic mercury, it can cause skin rashes, result in loss of memory, mental disturbances, dermatitis, and muscle weakness. Exposure to organic mercury can also lead to similar effects, but the fact that is more readily absorbed by the body makes it relatively less harmful as compared to other forms; harmful nevertheless. While methylmercury exposure is often traced to fish consumption, one is more likely to come in contact with elemental mercury by inhaling it when handling products containing the same.
Mercury Poisoning Treatment
In case of mercury poisoning, the treatment has to be initiated at the first sign of symptoms. In fact, experts opine that the treatment process has to be initiated even if it's a suspected case of mercury poisoning and reports are awaited. It's not wise to take a chance when it comes to mercury poisoning as any delay in the treatment process can cause irreparable damage to various parts of the body. Add to it the fact that there is very little you can do on your own, and things only become worse. Only an expert―a toxicologist in particular―can initiate proper treatment of this condition.
In case of methylmercury poisoning, the patient is first relocated from the source of poisoning as the symptoms of this condition are known to worsen when subjected to new exposure. (Even those near the affected person have to be careful in this case.) The source of mercury is promptly disposed and the surroundings are thoroughly cleaned of all traces of this heavy metal. As for the use of medication, it will differ from case to case, and thus, is best left to the medical professional.
If the person has ingested caustic inorganic mercury, the knee-jerk reaction is to make him vomit. While that may come across as logical at first, that is not the case. It only leads to further exposure of the tissues to the caustic toxin and hence, should be strictly avoided. There is no questioning the fact that the right approach is to get rid of the source from the body, but that should only be executed by an experienced medical professional.
The treatment procedure involves supportive care, wherein the patient is administered intravenous (IV) fluids and medication to treat the symptoms. Furthermore, activated charcoal is used to absorb mercury in the body and pass it out before it does further damage. Psychotropic medication are prescribed if the patient shows any signs of emotional or cognitive problem. At times, the removal of the source of poisoning may require surgical intervention as well, especially when it is lodged in the patient's intestine.
The treatment of organic mercury poisoning is not as aggressive as in case of inorganic form. In this case, the condition is treated using a charcoal or laxative to get rid of the source. However, if the intestinal tract is damaged, then there is no option, but to go for aggressive method of treatment.
Mercury forms can be chelated with dimercaprol and removed from the blood by the process of dialysis, but the use of dimercaprol is not recommended as it can further aggravate toxicity of the brain and spinal cord. In mercury poisoning treatment, neostigmine can be used to facilitate motor function, while polythiol can be used to bind methylmercury in bile secretions. If the person has inhaled mercury in significant amount, he is put on emergency respiratory support to avoid further damage to the lungs.
While the treatment for mercury poisoning does exist, the best bet is to avoid any kind of exposure in the first place. Other than properly disposing mercury-based products, one should also make it a point to ask for mercury-free products. Even the industries that use mercury have to be prepared to treat and dispose the same. Releasing it in air or water is a perfect recipe for disaster like we have seen in the past in Japan. A mercury-free environment is the best way to keep mercury poisoning at bay.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice. In case of emergency, please seek professional help. If you reside in the United States, you can call 1-800-222-1222 for help.