Mercury poisoning occurs when an individual ingests a toxic level of mercury, a naturally occurring metal found in foods and the environment. Mercury poisoning usually occurs gradually over weeks or months as an individual accumulates more and more of this metal in their body.
Individuals of any age can be affected by mercury poisoning, and it is especially dangerous for pregnant women, the elderly, and children.
Symptoms of mercury poisoning generally appear slowly and include anxiety, memory problems, depression, irritability, numbness, and tremors.
Symptoms can also include vision changes, coordination difficulties, and difficulties with hearing and speech in adults experiencing an acute episode of mercury poisoning. Mercury poisoning can be diagnosed with a clinical examination and blood or urine tests.
5 Ways to Prevent and Treat Mercury Poisoning
The steps outlined below are useful in the prevention and treatment of mercury poisoning.
1. Avoid Consuming Seafood with Mercury
The consumption of seafood containing mercury is the most common method of mercury poisoning, as all seafood naturally contains at least some mercury. Shark, swordfish, king mackerel, big-eye tuna, and marlin have the highest amounts of mercury.
Other types of seafood such as anchovies, catfish, albacore tuna, shrimp, and salmon are considered safe to eat up to two times a week. However, eating these and any other kinds of seafood contributes to mercury accumulation in the body and may pose a health risk.
In particular, doctors recommend pregnant women avoid consuming seafood at all stages of pregnancy. Women should also avoid seafood while they are breastfeeding, as mercury is passed to infants through breast milk.
Individuals should monitor their consumption of seafood and consider cutting down on the amount they eat. There are many vegetarian and vegan options that can be substituted in place of seafood.
2. Change the Living or Working Environment
In addition to the risk of mercury poisoning from seafood, the environment also poses a risk of this condition. Individuals can take steps to change their living or working environment to minimize this risk. In the home, it is important to avoid the use of mercury thermometers.
These can be safely recycled at dedicated facilities, and digital thermometers are safe substitutes. Some household paints and jewelry may contain mercury, so patients should check this before purchasing these items.
Skincare products, especially skin-lightening creams, may contain mercury; patients should always read the label when choosing skin care items. Silver and amalgam dental fillings contain mercury, and patients who have these may wish to speak to their dentist about removing these and replacing them with a safer alternative.
Workers who work in coal or gold mines have a higher risk of mercury poisoning and should ensure they take proper precautions to minimize exposure.
The air around mines and factories where mercury is released as a by-product of the manufacturing process is considered highly toxic.
When purchasing a new home, prospective buyers should check the location of any mines or factories near the area and try to purchase a home as far away from these as possible.
3. Chelation Therapy
Chelation is used to treat metal poisoning from mercury, arsenic, and lead. Before having this treatment, doctors will perform blood and urine tests to confirm a patient has heavy metal poisoning.
The treatment is typically given intravenously, though it is also available in an oral form. Patients receiving chelation therapy usually take a medication called ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid. Sometimes a drug known as dimercaptosuccinic acid is used for oral chelation.
Both of these chelation drugs bind with the heavy metals in the bloodstream and form a compound the body excretes through urine. The chelation treatment may cause side effects such as a burning sensation at the intravenous site.
Some patients may also experience fever, headache, vomiting or nausea. In rare cases, patients may develop potentially serious side effects, including low calcium levels in the blood, kidney damage, heart failure, and sudden episodes of low blood pressure.
Patients who have any concerns should discuss these with their doctor before beginning this therapy, and they will be monitored during intravenous treatment for any side effects.
Patients on oral chelation therapy should inform their medical team of any side effects or other worrying changes that develop with their health.
4. Wash Hands After Exposure
Mercury can be absorbed through the skin, and when it is absorbed in this manner, the absorption usually occurs slowly, and the amount absorbed is not typically enough to be harmful.
However, individuals who handle mercury thermometers or other items containing mercury should wash their hands after exposure to reduce the risk of absorption. Use of an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or soap is usually all that is needed.
After placing the hand sanitizer or soap on the skin, the hands should be rubbed together thoroughly for at least twenty seconds. Individuals washing their hands with soap will need to rinse the hands in warm water.
In addition to hand washing after exposure, individuals who regularly handle mercury-containing items may wish to wear safety gloves and other protective gear to minimize their exposure to this hazardous chemical.
5. Avoid Activities with Risk of Exposure
Individuals should avoid activities with risk of exposure to keep the risk of mercury poisoning as low as possible. For example, mines and factories should not be visited if at all possible, and individuals should not remove old paint unless they know it does not contain mercury.
Care should be taken when handling and changing older light bulbs that may contain mercury, and batteries should be disposed of properly to reduce leaks and possible mercury contamination.
Scientists and others exposed to mercury should take proper precautions. The risk of exposure to mercury can vary greatly based on where an individual life’s.
Individuals with any concerns about the potential for mercury poisoning can ask their doctor or local health department about precautions they should take in their area.