Healthdirect Free Australian health advice you can count on.

Medical problem? Call 1800 022 222. If you need urgent medical help, call triple zero immediately

healthdirect Australia is a free service where you can talk to a nurse or doctor who can help you know what to do.

beginning of content

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

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results

Pesticides | Health and wellbeing | Queensland Government

A pesticide is any substance or mixture of substances intended for preventing, destroying, repelling, or mitigating any pest including plants, rodents and insects.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Toxic household products to avoid during pregnancy

Find out about the toxic products you should try to avoid during pregnancy. Are they dangerous? And what should you do if you’re exposed?

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Chemicals – safe handling | National Centre for Farmer Health

Chemicals such as insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, veterinary chemicals and fuels are commonly handled on farms. These chemicals can be dangerous and need to be handled and stored with care. Read more...

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

Cholinesterase | Pathology Tests Explained

Cholinesterases are enzymes that are involved in the proper functioning of the nervous system. There are two separate cholinesterase enzymes in the body: (1)

Read more on Pathology Tests Explained website

Poisonings -

Poisoning is a common cause of hospital admissions for adults and children, and common household medicines are the leading cause of poisoning. Find out more about poisonings.

Read more on myDr website

Poisons | Emergency services and safety | Queensland Government

Even the mildest chemicals, medicines, animals and plants can be poisonous to your family but preventing poisoning at home can be simple.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Chemicals in the home - Better Health Channel

Learn how to safely store and dispose of household chemicals, and how to respond when a person is poisoned.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Bedbugs - Better Health Channel

Bedbugs have highly developed mouth parts that can pierce skin.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Farmer Needlestick Injuries – Risk & Recommended Treatment | National Centre for Farmer Health

Had an injury? Every year, across Australia, farmers and agricultural workers experience preventable needlestick injuries with 80% of livestock farmers reporting a needlestick injury at some time. These injuries—while unintentional—have…

Read more on National Centre for Farmer Health website

ACD A-Z of Skin - Papular Urticaria

A-Z OF SKIN Papular Urticaria BACK TO A-Z SEARCH What is it? Also known as…Insect bite-induced hypersensitivity What is Papular Urticaria? Papular urticaria is a term used to describe hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction to insect bites manifested by recurrent and persistent itchy lumps or fluid filled blisters

Read more on Australasian College of Dermatologists website

Healthdirect 24hr 7 days a week hotline

24 hour health advice you can count on

1800 022 222

Government Accredited with over 140 information partners

We are a government-funded service, providing quality, approved health information and advice

Australian Government, health department logo ACT Government logo New South Wales government, health department logo Northen Territory Government logo Queensland Government logo Government of South Australia, health department logo Tasmanian government logo Victorian government logo Government of Western Australia, health department logo

Healthdirect Australia acknowledges the Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and their continuing connection to land, sea and community. We pay our respects to the Traditional Owners and to Elders both past and present.