Marking pens were created to make life easier for students and adults alike. Markers are something we use at home, in school and in daily life on a regular basis. Children use markers to colour pictures, people at work use them to mark boxes or files, and Sharpies are popular in the world of dentistry, charting the restorations in patients' mouths. It is hard to believe that something made for good could also go so horribly bad. The truth is, permanent markers are more dangerous than most people realise.
Skin Irritations and Infections
While most of us have likely written on our hand at one time or another, you probably found that there was no harm done -- even though the ink seemed to take forever to disappear. However, marking skin with permanent marker is probably not the smartest thing to do. Xylene in the ink can cause irritation as someone tries to remove the ink from their skin. Unfortunately, for the people who unthinkingly mark themselves up with permanent marker, the word permanent is a clue as to how easily it will be removed with washing. Some people scrub to rid their skin of the ink. That is when the danger of poisoning is the greatest, as scrubbing opens minute scratches on the skin where the ink already is. Another risk is people who colour an open wound with permanent marker. This is even harder to remove because it gets right into the wound. Often the wound heals with the ink still in it and it becomes a type of tattoo until time and effort remove it. In the meantime, all of this can cause infection, which demands medical attention. Even with medical attention, the areas can scar.
Ink Poisoning Through Mucous Membranes
While not widely known, ink swallowed from permanent markers can lead to ink poisoning. A chemical called xylene is toxic and its use in markers, such as Magic Markers, is the cause of potential poisoning. Poisoning of this nature is rarely fatal, because of the small amount of the chemical that is actually in the marker. There is so small an amount of xylene in a Magic Marker, the box itself says the markers are nontoxic. However, taking into consideration a person's size, age, medical conditions that maybe exacerbated by the xylene, or medications taken that could be affected by it, poisoning does happen.
Xylene Ink poisoning occurs when ink from a permanent marker gets into a persons eyes, perhaps they have it on their hand and wipe their eyes, or the mucous membranes. Maybe the pen user was chewing on the pen. The reaction to the chemical will be swift. Pain and itching will occur, along with tearing of the eye. The sooner medical attention is sought, the sooner the situation is treated and under control. Contact a poison control centre while heading for medical attention.
Inhaling The Fumes
Abusing permanent markers by inhaling the ink is possibly the most dangerous risk associated with use of permanent markers. People wanting to feel good for a moment, actively inhale the pen's fumes that are created by the chemical solvents. The effect of marker inhalation is much the same as drinking too much alcohol. For a moment, the person feels uninhibited and happy. However, in higher doses, inhaling the fumes can cause vivid hallucinations. The short-term side effects of inhalation include nausea, memory loss and vision disturbances. Lastly and, most important, somewhere within the first 45 minutes after inhalation the long-term effects are much more severe, including permanent damage to the brain, liver, kidneys, increased heart rate and spasms in the arms and legs. First-time sniffers really take their lives into their hands, as it is not uncommon for a first-time inhaler to die from a condition called "sudden sniffing death." It is not known why this happens, or why it happens to some and not all inhalers.
Allergies and Lung Ailments
The organic solvents in permanent markers often lead to allergies. These allergies get worse and occur over with repeated exposure to permanent marker ink. Although no noticeable reaction to the organic solvents may be obvious at first, after one exposure your skin already becomes susceptible to the chemical and this increases over time. Chemical sensitivity affects a very small percentage of the population, approximately 10 per cent, though it is likely those numbers will see an increase as time goes by. As the sensitivity and intolerance increases, those with chronic lung issues like asthma may be at unusually high risk. The allergic effects of the solvents are cumulative over time, so just because you did an art project with permanent markers one day with no effects, doesn't mean it will be that way the next time they are used. The only way for individuals with lung issues to safely use permanent markers is to use them in a highly ventilated area, and even that is not a guarantee of damage to the lungs being averted.
- Environmental Heath: The Dangers in Marking Pens
- Youth Workers Alliance: How to Talk To Adolecents About Drug Abuse
- Sacramento County Sherrif's Department: Sniffing Your Life Away
- Joanne Jacobs:Sharpie Abuse in Our Schools
- Jessica Doyle: Solvent Markers Are Dangerous To Tou And Your Artwork
- Medline Plus: Ink Poisoning
- Jupiterimages/Pixland/Getty Images