Most cases of nicotine poisoning are not due to smoking, but are instead due to ingestion or skin exposure. Anyone exposed to or using nicotine should be aware of the symptoms of nicotine poisoning in order to stop the exposure immediately and seek medical attention. Most cases of nicotine poisoning involve children eating cigarette butts or nicotine gum, and parents who smoke or use nicotine gum should be aware of nicotine poisoning symptoms.
Nicotine poisoning symptoms appear shortly after ingestion or exposure to nicotine. If exposure stops as soon as symptoms appear, they will usually resolve on their own with no lasting effects. If nicotine poisoning symptoms become serious, hospital treatment may be required.
The first symptoms of nicotine poisoning are nausea, sweating, drooling, headache and stomach cramps. If exposure continues, the symptoms will progress in severity to vomiting, overall weakness, pallor of the skin and difficulty breathing. Acute nicotine poisoning is serious, and symptoms include heart palpitations, fainting, seizures, convulsions, confusion and coma. According to the National Institutes of Health, acute nicotine poisoning can result in death.
Nicotine poisoning symptoms are similar to symptoms of other diseases and illnesses, and even mimic symptoms for nerve agent or organophosphate poisoning. If symptoms of nicotine poisoning are present, a doctor will do a urine and blood test to confirm the presence of nicotine or cotinine (the metabolite of nicotine) and rule out other possibilities.
If nicotine poisoning is suspected, call a poison control centre immediately. Do not make the victim vomit unless instructed to do so by emergency personnel. If nicotine poisoning symptoms are the result of skin exposure, wash the area with soap and water for 15 minutes. Medical treatment for ingested nicotine includes activated charcoal and gastric lavage (washing out the stomach). With medical treatment, even serious cases of nicotine poisoning can be resolved without permanent damage.
People who work in tobacco fields are often overexposed to nicotine. If showing symptoms of nicotine poisoning, they are said to have the "Green Tobacco Disease." Children working in tobacco fields in other countries frequently have nicotine poisoning symptoms. In the Aug. 25, 2009, issue of the Irish Times, a child from a Malawi tobacco field describes his symptoms as, "You reach a point where you cannot breathe because of the pain in your chest. Then the blood comes when you vomit. At the end, most of this dies and then you remain with a headache."