Alternative name: Wood alcohol poisoning
Definition: Methanol is a non-drinking type of alcohol used for industrial and automotive purposes. This article discusses poisoning from an overdose of methanol.
This article is for information only. Do NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911). You may also consult with a poison control centre in your region.
Your local poison centre will vary by city and province, but can generally be reached by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can find select contact numbers for Canadian centres here (LINK: https://safemedicationuse.ca/tools_resources/poison_centres.html).
Methanol is found in:
- Canned heating sources
- Copy machine fluids
- De-icing fluid
- Fuel additives (octane boosters)
- Paint remover or thinner
- Windshield wiper fluid
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
Symptoms may include:
Airway and lungs:
- Breathing difficulty
- No breathing
- Blindness, complete or partial, sometimes described as “snow blindness”
- Blurred vision
- Dilation (widening) of the pupils
Heart and blood:
- Low blood pressure
- Agitated behaviour
- Coma (unresponsiveness)
- Difficulty walking
Skin and nails:
- Bluish-coloured lips and fingernails
Stomach and intestines:
- Abdominal pain (severe)
- Liver problems, including jaundice (yellow skin) and bleeding
- Pancreatitis (nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain)
- Vomiting, sometimes bloody
- Leg cramps
Seek immediate medical help. DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.
Before Calling Emergency
The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:
- Person’s age, weight and condition
- Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.
Your local poison centre will vary by city and province, but can generally be reached by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You can find select contact numbers for Canadian centres here (LINK: https://safemedicationuse.ca/tools_resources/poison_centres.html). This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person’s vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate and blood pressure. The person may receive:
- Activated charcoal
- Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation) and breathing machine (ventilator)
- Blood and urine tests
- Chest x-ray
- CT (computerized tomography or advanced imaging) scan
- EKG (electrocardiogram or heart tracing)
- Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms, including antidotes to reverse the effect of the poison (fomepizole or ethanol)
- Tube through the nose to remove remaining poison, if the person is seen within 60 minutes after swallowing it
Because rapid removal of methanol is a key to treatment success and survival, the person will likely need dialysis (kidney machine).
Methanol is extremely poisonous. As little as two tablespoons (30 millilitres) can be deadly to a child. About two to eight ounces (60 to 240 millilitres) can be deadly for an adult. Blindness is common and often permanent despite medical care. Intake of methanol affects multiple organs. Organ damage may be permanent. How well the person does depends on how much poison is swallowed and how soon treatment is received.
Kostic MA. Poisoning. In: Kliegman RM, Stanton BF, St. Geme JW, Schor NF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 63.
Nelson ME. Toxic alcohols. In: Walls RM, Hockberger RS, Gausche-Hill M, eds. Rosen’s Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2018:chap 141.
Pincus MR, Bluth MH, Abraham NZ. Toxicology and therapeutic drug monitoring. In: McPherson RA, Pincus MR, eds. Henry’s Clinical Diagnosis and Management by Laboratory Methods. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 23.