is a condition that occurs in people who are exposed to toxic levels of the element, mercury
. There are three different forms of mercury that can cause health problems:
- Elemental mercury (also known as liquid mercury or quicksilver) can be found in glass thermometers, electrical switches, dental fillings and fluorescent light bulbs. This form of mercury is generally only harmful when small droplets become airborne and are inhaled. If this occurs, signs and symptoms of poisoning may include metallic taste, vomiting, difficulty breathing, coughing, and/or swollen, bleeding gums. In severe cases, long-term brain damage, permanent lung damage and even death may occur.
- Inorganic mercury is found in batteries, chemistry labs, and some disinfectants. This form of mercury is harmful when swallowed. Signs and symptoms of inorganic mercury poisoning vary based on the amount consumed, but may include burning in the stomach and throat; vomiting; and/or bloody diarrhea. Inorganic mercury can also affect the kidneys and brain if it enters the blood stream.
- Organic mercury can be found in fish. Some organisms convert fumes from burning coal into organic mercury. This form of mercury is harmful if inhaled, eaten, or placed on the skin for long periods of time. Long-term exposure to organic mercury may result in skin numbness or pain; tremor; inability to walk well; blindness; double vision; memory problems; seizures; or even death.
Treatment is generally supportive and based on the signs and symptoms present in each person. Medications called chelators, which remove mercury and heavy metals from the body, are generally prescribed.
Last updated: 2/5/2016