What You Need to Know About Mercury Poisoning


Mercury poisoning can be extremely serious – make sure you know the signs of poisoning and how to avoid it.

What you need to know about mercury poisoning

Mercury is a type of natural metal that can be found in tiny amounts in many products and foods. Small amounts of mercury are safe to be around and even eat – but exposure to too much mercury can be extremely bad for your health.

Where is mercury found?

According to Medical News Today, the most common cause of organic mercury poisoning is eating seafood that contains high amounts of mercury.

This is why doctors highly suggest that pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, nursing women and young children should be extra careful when eating seafood. WebMD reports that shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock and catfish have some of the lowest amounts of mercury. Limit intake to 1 to 2 4 oz servings per week.

However, there are other types of mercury (known as elemental and inorganic mercury) that can be found in products or in the environment. Elemental mercury is liquid at room temperature and shiny silver in color. Elemental and inorganic mercury may be found in the following products:

  • Glass thermometers
  • Electrical switches
  • Fluorescent light bulbs (compact fluorescent bulbs – CFL the ones with the twist)
  • Dental fillings (extremely small amounts)
  • Some medical and industrial equipment
  • Herbal medication
  • Industrial chemicals and chemistry labs
  • Batteries
  • Disinfectants

What are the symptoms of mercury poisoning?

The symptoms of mercury poisoning vary depending on the type of mercury and when the exposure to the mercury happened. Sometimes, it may take months (or even years) for someone to experience any symptoms of mercury poisoning.

Here are some general signs to look out for in adults, according to Healthline:

  • Hearing and speech difficulties
  • Lack of coordination
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nerve loss in hands and face
  • Trouble walking
  • Vision changes

In the long term, elemental mercury can also cause a metallic taste in the mouth or swollen, bleeding gums.

How to get help

If you or a loved one think you may have been exposed to mercury or are experiencing any symptoms, seek medical attention.

The following information will help the emergency team get you the right help as quickly as possible:

  • Person’s age and weight
  • How they were exposed to mercury
  • Time/day it was swallowed, inhaled, or touched
  • Amount swallowed, inhaled, or touched

Our caring teams at Valleywise Health Medical Center and Valleywise Health Emergency – Maryvale are available 24/7 to help you or your loved one experiencing mercury poisoning make a fast recovery. Learn more at ValleywiseHealth.org.

 

Sources

  1. https://www.healthline.com/health/mercury-poisoning#symptoms
  2. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/article/002476.htm
  3. https://www.webmd.com/diet/mercury-in-fish
  4. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/320563.php

About the Author

Dan Quan, DO - Emergency Medicine

Dr. Quan is a board-certified Emergency Physician and Medical Toxicologist at District Medical Group, practicing at Valleywise Health. He is a Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Phoenix and Creighton University. Currently he serves as the acting chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Valleywise Health.

Read more posts by Dan Quan, DO  Browse all topics

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