Home Paraquat Exposure Symptoms

Paraquat Exposure Symptoms

Paraquat, a highly toxic herbicide, causes immediate and severe symptoms upon exposure, including gastrointestinal issues, kidney failure and respiratory distress. Research has linked paraquat to Parkinson’s disease. Long-term paraquat exposure symptoms include lung damage and possible cancer risk.

Last Modified: September 7, 2023
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Paraquat Poisoning

Paraquat is a toxic chemical widely used as an herbicide for weed and grass control. Whether through ingestion, inhalation or skin contact, exposure to even a small amount of paraquat can cause immediate and severe harmful effects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency warns that just one sip of paraquat can prove fatal.

No antidote is available for paraquat poisoning, so treatment involves alleviating symptoms and supportive care. Immediately after exposure, activated charcoal can limit paraquat absorption in the gastrointestinal tract or help remove paraquat from the lungs. High-dose long-term antioxidants have shown promise in improving survival rates in severe paraquat poisoning.

Immediate Exposure Symptoms

Because of its high toxicity, severe paraquat exposure symptoms can manifest within seconds, hours or days of exposure, potentially culminating in death. Immediate paraquat symptoms of exposure following ingestion include pain and swelling of the mouth and throat.

Gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea (which may become bloody) can then occur. Exposure triggers a range of severe symptoms, many of which require urgent medical attention.

Signs of Paraquat Exposure:
  • Choking
  • Coma
  • Confusion
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Infection or inflammation in the chest cavity (that can affect vital organs)
  • Insufficient potassium and sodium levels
  • Jaundice
  • Lesions
  • Low blood pressure
  • Muscle weakness
  • Nosebleed
  • Seizures
  • Shock

Skin exposure to paraquat causes chemical burns. These burns can progress for up to 24 hours.

Ingestion may lead to heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure and lung scarring within several days to several weeks of ingestion. Other long-term effects can occur.

Long-Term Paraquat Exposure Symptoms

Though someone may survive the acute phase of paraquat poisoning, they may experience serious long-term paraquat exposure symptoms. Paraquat poisoning survivors also have an increased cancer risk.

Long-Term Symptoms of Paraquat Exposure:
  • Cardiomyopathy (disorder affecting the heart muscle)
  • Chronic lung inflammation (pneumonitis)
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (thickening or scarring of lung tissue)
  • Skin cancer (squamous cell carcinoma)
  • Thyroid cancer

The EPA classifies paraquat as a type C or “possible” human carcinogen. Studies suggest the mortality rate of paraquat poisoning may be as high as 46%-80%.

Did you develop Parkinson’s disease after exposure to paraquat?

Paraquat and Parkinson’s Disease

A general scientific consensus links toxins like paraquat to the development of Parkinson’s disease. While one recent study suggests that paraquat has no association with an increased risk of Parkinson’s disease or death from any cause, Syngenta – the company that manufactures paraquat – funded and led the study.

Paraquat exposure is associated with nerve cell damage in part of the brain, a key feature of Parkinson’s disease. People have filed numerous paraquat lawsuits because of the toxin’s serious effects and links to Parkinson’s disease.

Preventing Paraquat Poisoning & Exposure

Safe handling and use of paraquat, along with proper protective equipment, can significantly reduce the risk of accidental exposure. Should exposure occur, immediate action is necessary. Dial 911 or contact your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. You can also seek emergency help online through the poison control center’s web portal.

Acting fast is critical given the lethality of paraquat. Quick action and immediate medical attention can help minimize long-term harm from paraquat exposure.

Please seek the advice of a medical professional before making health care decisions.