How to Prevent and Treat Kerosene Poisoning

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Kerosene Lamp

The word kerosene is derived from the Greek word ‘keros’, meaning ‘wax’.  It is a colourless liquid fuel, extracted from petroleum, used in homes and industries.

It is highly flammable and a major component of aviation (jet) fuels, and can be used as a solvent or cleaning agent.

Kerosene Poisoning in children is common in the developing world like Africa, as kerosene is still extensively used for cooking, heating and lighting.

Children mistakenly drink it thinking it to be a soft drink or water as kerosene is most times stored within their reach in soda bottles.

Adults are not left out, especially those who are frequently exposed to kerosene.

Read more about kerosene poisoning, its effect, first aid care and preventive measures.


What is Kerosene Poisoning?

Also known as Kerosene Toxicity, it refers to the skin/eye contact, inhalation or swallowing of kerosene either accidentally or intentionally.

The fuel can interact with other medications in the body and such interactions may enhance their effects of other medications being taken, resulting in dangerous side effects.

How does it happen?

Baby at risk of kerosene poisoning

Kerosene may enter the body’s system through various means;

  1. The main route of exposure is via inhalation during swallowing (aspiration).
  2.  Inhalation or skin absorption of kerosene may occur through occupational exposures such as in the aviation sector or commercial sales of the fuel.
  3. The use of commercially-available products such as paints and insecticides
  4. Accidental release for example road traffic accidents
  5. Substance abuse, i.e. ingesting or sniffing kerosene to get high.
  6. Swimming in water bodies polluted with kerosene.

What are the Effects of Kerosene Poisoning?

The effects may vary based on route and duration of contact with kerosene. They include;

  • Sudden contact
Route of ExposureEffects
Inhalation1. May cause headache, dizziness, drowsiness and euphoria.
2. Aspiration into the lungs causes inflammation of the lungs with choking, cough, wheezes, breathlessness, cyanosis and fever.
Swallowing1. Symptoms are usually absent but there may be nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Eye(s)1. Kerosene has a neutral pH but may be irritating to the eyes causing an immediate stinging and burning sensation with tears.
Skin1. Drying and cracking due to the removal of endogenous skin lipids.
2. There may be transient pain with erythema, blistering and superficial burns.
Sudden exposure to kerosene may result in Central Nervous System (CNS) effects including irritability, restlessness, drowsiness, ataxia, convulsions, coma and death
  • Gradual exposure

Usually affects people who fail to appropriately use of personal protective equipment when working jobs that necessitate contact with kerosene such as those who work in fuelling station, and roadside kerosene sellers.

The most common effect associated with chronic kerosene exposure is dermatitis, It may also cause non-specific CNS effects such as nervousness, loss of appetite and nausea.

Whilst kerosene is not considered a human carcinogen, constant skin exposure may result in tumorigenesis.


How can it be treated?

The individual who is affected or someone close should call the local or state emergency line for assistance. Also, the amount and time of consumption of the substance should be noted

Appropriate treatment is given by health professionals but pending their arrival or on the way to the hospital; you may carry out the following first aid care

Route of ExposureFirst Aid Treatment
Inhalation1. Carefully move the child or individual from the exposure area to an area of fresh air immediately.
2. Ensure breathing is not blocked and check for the presence of a pulse
3. Place the individual in a comfortable seated position in a well-ventilated space; don’t let him/her lie down.  
Swallowing1. Give water to drink immediately
2. In case of difficulty in swallowing such as vomiting or fainting, do not give anything via the mouth
3, If the child or individual is unconscious, make them lie on their side, to prevent aspiration of vomit into their lungs
4. Do not force the child or individual to vomit
Eye(s)1. Remove child/individual from the region of exposure.
2. Remove glasses contact lenses if he/she is wearing one
3. Immediately wash the affected eye thoroughly with lots of clean water for at least 10-15 minutes.  
Skin1. Move the person from region exposure.
2. Remove clothing soaked with kerosene.
3. Wash the contaminated area thoroughly with soap and water.


Medical intervention usually involves administering oxygen, intravenous fluids, treating symptoms as they manifest, close monitoring and surgery in case of a burns injury.

Expert medical care is needed to avoid complications such as pneumonitis, pulmonary oedema, heart problems, convulsions, loss of consciousness and death.

How can Kerosene Poisoning be Prevented?

Recommended containers for storing kerosene

Kerosene Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Keeping all poisonous/hazardous chemicals out of the reach of children
  • Keeping all chemicals correctly labelled and in suitable storage locations
  • Using appropriate protective wear when working with kerosene, e.g. hand gloves
  • Knowing vital first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as accidental poisoning)
  • Seeking medical help in case of substance abuse

The outcome of Kerosene Poisoning is dependent on the amount consumed, the time between intake and treatment, the severity of the symptoms, as well as the overall health status of the patient

If recovery from the symptoms occurs within 6 hours, with the appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally excellent. This occurs with mild poisoning when one is exposed to or ingests a small amount of kerosene.

In general, when early intervention is given, the outcome is usually positive.

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  1. Thanks for sharing.

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