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Pesticide poisoning

6-minute read

If you have been poisoned by pesticides, you should call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. In an emergency call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Key facts

  • Pesticides can prevent the spread of pests.
  • Pesticides contain active ingredients that can harm humans.
  • Symptoms of pesticide poisoning occur within 2 days of exposure.
  • If there are no symptoms but you suspect pesticide poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

What are pesticides?

Pesticides can prevent, destroy, or reduce the spread of pests.

The term pesticide applies to:

  • herbicides — which kill weeds
  • insecticides — which kill insects
  • bactericide — which kill bacteria
  • fungicides — which kill fungi

Pesticides contain active ingredients that control pests.

The body functions that are changed may be similar in other species – including people and our pets.

What is pesticide poisoning?

High levels of pesticides can harm or poison humans.

Pesticide poisoning can happen when too much pesticide is:

  • inhaled (breathed in)
  • eaten
  • absorbed through your skin

Exposure to low levels of pesticide over a long period of time can also cause poisoning.

What are the symptoms of pesticide poisoning?

Symptoms of pesticide poisoning can range from mild to severe. In severe cases, pesticide poisoning can be life threatening.

If you have been poisoned by pesticides, you should call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. In an emergency call triple zero (000) for an ambulance.

Symptoms occur within 2 days of exposure to a pesticide.

Symptoms can include:

If poisoning has been caused by exposure to low levels of pesticide over a long period of time, it may take longer for symptoms to appear. This is called chronic poisoning. Symptoms of chronic poisoning include:

  • muscle weakness and fatigue
  • difficulties with concentration and memory
  • generally feeling unwell

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

When should I get help?

Call triple zero (000) for an ambulance if someone stops breathing, collapses, has a seizure or a severe allergic reaction (anaphylaxis).

If calling triple zero (000) does not work on your mobile, try calling 112. Or go to the closest emergency department. Early treatment can save a life.

If there are no symptoms but you suspect pesticide poisoning, call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26. You can speak with a poisons expert 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is pesticide poisoning diagnosed?

Your doctor will examine you and will ask you some questions. They may ask you:

  • what pesticide you were exposed to (you may need to refer to the bottle or packet)
  • how much pesticide you were exposed to
  • when and how you were exposed (mouth, airways, eye or skin contact)
  • what symptoms you have

They may also arrange for you to have some blood tests.

How is pesticide poisoning treated?

Your doctor will need to work out how harmful the pesticide is and treat you accordingly.

You may also have treatment to relieve symptoms (such as pain relief).

You can read more about first aid treatment for pesticide poisoning on healthdirect’s Poisoning page.

How can I help prevent pesticide poisoning?

It is important to only use pesticides when necessary, and according to the directions on the label.

Safety equipment when using pesticides

It’s important to use safety equipment and wear appropriate protection when using pesticides such as:

  • gloves
  • safety glasses
  • protective clothing
  • respirator

Other safety measures

Other safety measures include:

  • keeping pesticides out of reach of children
  • avoid using pesticides near children, pregnant women or older people
  • throwing out unwanted pesticides at your nearest hazardous waste disposal service

Children absorb more chemicals through their skin than adults.

Resources and support

It’s a good idea to:

For further advice, you can also call the healthdirect helpline on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria). A registered nurse is available to speak with 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: November 2023


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