Methyl alcohol poisoning

Methyl Alcohol Poisoning: What You Need to Know

Methyl alcohol poisoning, or methanol toxicity, is an intoxication caused by drinking alcoholic beverages that contain methanol. It can have long term health effects and cause permanent vision loss or even death if left untreated. The symptoms may seem similar to those of ordinary drunkenness, but in the case of methanol toxicity, it can be a sign of something much more serious.

The toxic effects of methanol poisoning occur because the body converts it into formic acid, a toxic relative of acetic acid, and then holding onto it to create more toxicity. Although methanol is a natural component of many alcoholic beverages, concentrated amounts of it can be dangerous. Ingestion of as little as 30 milliliters (mL) of pure methanol can cause blindness or death.

Signs and Symptoms of Methyl Alcohol Poisoning

The signs and symptoms of methanol poisoning vary depending on the amount of methanol consumed but can include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Convulsions
  • Blindness
  • Visual disturbances
  • Stupor
  • Unusual abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sleepiness
  • Seizures
  • Liver failure
  • Nutritional abnormalities
  • Coma
  • Death

Severe methanol toxicity can cause permanent vision loss, brain damage, respiratory depression, coma, and even death.

Treatment for Methyl Alcohol Poisoning

Treatment for methanol poisoning is aimed at preventing the absorption of toxic amounts and at preventing permanent damage. Treatment can include:

  • Activated charcoal: This may be given soon after ingestion to prevent the absorption of methanol in the intestines.
  • Fomepizole (Antizol): This is a drug that inhibits methanol metabolism.
  • Ethanol (alcohol): This is given to provide an alternate substance for the body to metabolize.
  • Dialysis: This is used to remove toxic substances from the body if necessary.

The sooner treatment is started for methanol poisoning, the less likely it is to cause blindness or other serious effects.