Antifreeze is a liquid that is used in cars to cool its engine. It is therefore also called as car coolant. The main compound present in antifreeze liquid is ethylene glycol. It is the base of all antifreeze compounds. In addition some antifreeze solution also contains methanol and isopropanol. Antifreeze poisoning occurs when a person accidentally or intentionally ingests the antifreeze liquid.
After ingestion it can give rise to variety of side effects. Poisoning caused by car coolant can be life threatening. The symptoms manifest within few hours after ingestion. At first they are gastrointestinal such as nausea and vomiting but after a period of time ethylene glycol can cause damage to many other vital organs such as kidney.
How Does Antifreeze Cause Poisoning?
Antifreeze liquid is sweet in taste. Pets and children often mistakenly consume the fluid from the leaking radiator or spillage from the poorly secured or open bottle. In both the cases, it is accidental poisoning. Poisoning can also occur in adults. It can be accidental ingestion or intentional. The symptoms of antifreeze develop within hours or a day after it enters into the body.
Actually ethylene glycol directly may not produce any manifestation, but the resultant metabolites that occur after its breakdown cause symptoms of poisoning. An enzyme alcohol dehydrogenase present in liver and in the stomach lining is responsible for the breakdown of the ethylene glycol.
As ethylene glycol is metabolized, it gets converted into glycoaldehyde, glycolic acid and lastly oxalic acid. Other ingredients such as methanol and isopropanol also get metabolized by the enzyme into formaldehyde and acetone. The side effects begin to develop as the substances starts metabolizing. It can affect many systems in the body.
For example glycolic acid decreases the acid pH of the blood. As a result patient breathes rapidly to remove excess of carbon dioxide from the body and increase pH of blood. Oxalic acid may form into crystals and lodge in kidneys leading to functional damage of the kidneys. Formic acid released after the enzymatic action can cause blurred vision or blindness and acetone produce can act upon nervous system leading to disorientation and in severe cases can lead to seizure and coma.
Signs And Symptoms Of Antifreeze Poisoning
Soon after entering in the stomach antifreeze liquid gets absorbed into the bloodstream. It may take few hours or a day for the symptoms to develop. The symptoms of poisoning may also depend on the amount of antifreeze consumed and age of the patient.
Firstly, there is gastrointestinal disturbance within few hours of its ingestion. Patient may have nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain. The person may also feel dizzy and intoxicated. He will develop slurred speech, and uncoordinated movement.
As time passes body begins to breakdown the liquid into different metabolites presenting sets of symptoms. This may include high blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, rapid breathing, muscular spasm etc.
After one or two days if patient is not treated, the antifreeze can damage the kidney. Patient complains of pain in both flanks with less urine output. Often the color of urine turns red due to mild or moderate amount of bleeding.
Antifreeze poisoning needs to be treated on emergency basis as early treatment can increase the chances of patient’s survival. Untreated cases can lead to death. Patient needs to be treated in a hospital.