First Aid for Cyanide poisoning

Fact Checked

Ingesting or inhaling cyanide leads to cyanide poisoning in people. Cyanide poisoning is a hazardous condition as it inhibits the hemoglobin molecule to carry oxygen in the red blood cells. This causes a serious starvation of oxygen in many organs and tissues in the body which may lead to severe effects, if not treated promptly. Cyanide poisoning may even lead to death if untreated.

poison sign


Disclaimer: the details posted on this blog are for information purposes only. To learn more about poisoning and other serious first aid emergencies enrol in a St Mark James first aid course.


The most common sources of cyanide include:

  • Smoke from burning plastics
  • Burning of nylon, wool, silk, polyurethane and cellulose
  • Electroplating industry
  • Fumigation
  • Fertilizers
  • Ore extraction industries
  • Fruit pits for example, apricot pits may also contain cyanide in small amounts
  • Silver recovery from an x-ray film
  • Medication such as sodium nitroprusside

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of cyanide poisoning include:

  • Breathing difficulty
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Coma

Other additional symptoms and signs of cyanide poisoning may include:

  • Vertigo
  • Dizziness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Headaches
  • Bitter almond breath odor
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Rapid breathing
  • Rapid pulse
  • Seizures

Seek emergency medical help if the following symptoms result from cyanide poisoning or if you suspect a person is suffering from poisoning due to exposure to any kind of smoke:

  • Chest pain
  • Aggravating headache that does not go away with medication
  • Confusion
  • Seizures
  • Fainting
  • Sever enough
  • Vomiting
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Wheezing

How is cyanide poisoning treated at the hospital?

Treatment will include oxygen therapy and special antidotes will be given to treat cyanide poisoning under special administration.


Call poison control immediately if you are not sure if the casualty is suffering from cyanide poisoning. Treat the casualty with the following methods depending on the method of exposure i.e. whether the cyanide was ingested, inhaled or absorbed by the skin.

1. Safety first! Do not enter a danger zone where there is smoke. Wear protective equipment such as masks, gloves ad fully covered clothes before approaching the casualty.
2. To treat ingestion or inhalation, follow these steps:

  • Take the person away from the area immediately and take him outside where there is fresh air
  • If it is impossible to move from the area with cyanide gas or smoke, try to keep yourself as low as possible to the ground
  • If the casualty has stopped breathing, has difficulty breathing or is unconscious, begin hand-only CPR immediately. For adults, use adult CPR and for children, use child CPR
  • DO NOT administer CPR with mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, only do chest compressions

3. Treat the skin exposure
4. Treat the eye exposure by following these steps:

  • Remove any eye glasses or contact lenses if the casualty if wearing any
  • Rinse the eyes using plain water for about 10 minutes or more
  • Do not throw away the contact lenses and secure them in a plastic bag to be properly disposed of
  • Do not use glasses until you have properly washed them with soap and water

Learn More

To learn more about recognizing and managing victims of poisons enrol in St Mark James first aid training (sign up here).

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