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


2-minute read

Pesticides are used to prevent, destroy, or reduce the spread of pests. Though often misunderstood to refer only to insecticides, the term pesticide also applies to herbicides (against weeds), bactericides (against bacteria), fungicides (against fungi) and various other substances used to control pests.

It is important that pesticides are only used when necessary, and in accordance with the directions on the label. When exposed to high levels of pesticides, humans can be harmed or poisoned.

If a person has been poisoned by pesticides, you should call the Poisons Information Centre 24 hours a day from anywhere in Australia on 13 11 26 or call triple zero (000) in an emergency.

Symptoms of pesticide poisoning can be mild or severe. Mild symptoms include headache, feeling tired and weak, dizziness, nausea or diarrhoea, sore joints, or irritated skin, eyes, nose and throat.

In more severe cases, pesticide poisoning can cause:

  • severe nausea
  • persistent vomiting or diarrhoea
  • change in appetite
  • intense thirst
  • abdominal pain or cramping
  • excessive sweating or salivation
  • tears and blurred vision
  • coughing
  • pinpoint pupils
  • lack of muscle control or coordination, uncontrollable muscle twitches
  • weakness
  • mood changes
  • confusion
  • breathing difficulties or increased rate of breathing
  • rapid heart rate
  • convulsions
  • fever
  • unconsciousness
  • seizure

Follow the links below to find information about pesticides, other forms of pest control and how to avoid poisoning. 

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

Last reviewed: July 2021

Back To Top

Need more information?

These trusted information partners have more on this topic.

Top results


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

Rat poison contamination

The active ingredient in rat poison is brodifacoum. It is used in baits to kill rodents such as mice and rats.

Read more on Queensland Health website

Toxic household products to avoid during pregnancy

If you're pregnant but exposed to a small amount of chemicals, it's unlikely to harm you or your baby. But it’s still best to avoid contact with toxic products.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby website

Hazards after cyclones, floods and other disasters

There are many hazards to consider after cyclones, floods and other disasters including asbestos contamination, mosquitoes, poisons, chemicals, pesticides, snakes, rodents and other wildlife.

Read more on WA Health website

Cholinesterase - Pathology Tests Explained

Why and when to get tested for cholinesterase

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

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

Medicine and poisons safety in the home

Learn more about the importance of child-resistant packaging, how to reduce the risk of poisoning and what to do if your child swallows a poison.

Read more on Pregnancy, Birth & Baby 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

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 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.