Aspirin Poisoning Overview
Aspirin is a trade name for acetylsalicylic acid, a common pain reliever (also called an analgesic). The earliest known uses of the drug can be traced back to the Greek physician Hippocrates in the fifth century BC. He used powder extracted from the bark of willows to treat pain and reduce fever.
Aspirin Poisoning Causes
For a variety of reasons, some people intentionally ingest poisons or poison others. Some reasons include:
Aspirin poisoning can also be accidental and was once the most common cause of accidental poisoning of children. Safety precautions such as child-resistant packaging has helped make it less common.
Inappropriate dosing in both children and elderly people is one of the reasons accidental aspirin poisonings continue to happen. Hundreds of medications -- both over-the-counter and prescription medicines -- contain aspirin or aspirin-like substances. Unintentional poisoning can result if these medications are taken in combination, in inappropriate doses, or over a long time period. This is especially likely to occur in older people with chronic health problems.
Aspirin Poisoning Symptoms
The earliest symptoms of acute aspirin poisoning may include ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and impaired hearing. More clinically significant signs and symptoms may include rapid breathing (hyperventilation), vomiting, dehydration, fever, double vision, and feeling faint.
Later signs of aspirin poisoning, or signs of more significant poisoning, can include drowsiness or confusion, bizarre behavior, unsteady walking, and coma.
The abnormal breathing caused by aspirin poisoning is usually rapid and deep. Vomiting may occur 3-8 hours after taking too much aspirin. Serious dehydration may occur from hyperventilation, vomiting, and fever.
When to Seek Medical Care
If you have been taking aspirin and begin to have ringing in your ears, call your doctor to see if the medication should be stopped or the dosage reduced..
For all other symptoms, call 911 (or the local emergency phone number) immediately. Serious symptoms include the following:
Exams and Tests
The doctor will take a history and perform a physical examination to look for evidence of poisoning. The doctor will order laboratory tests to look for damage to organ systems that can be harmed by aspirin overdose and, depending on the timing, also to check for the level of aspirin in the bloodstream.
The doctor will make sure you are able to breathe and will check vital signs including body temperature. The doctor will check alertness by asking you to respond to questions. If you are unconscious, the doctor will give oxygen and perhaps use machines to help you breathe.
Blood will be taken for lab testing. One blood test will measure the amount of salicylate, the active ingredient in aspirin, in your blood. Sometimes the blood level of salicylate can increase over time even though an individual has not taken any more aspirin. This may indicate the person has taken coated tablets or sustained-release tablets, which release salicylate into the bloodstream slowly.
The doctor will make treatment decisions based on the dose of active ingredient ingested, the time over which it was ingested, your age, the symptoms you are experiencing, and your acid-base status. Acid-base status is the balance of acid and base in the blood. Aspirin may change this balance quickly, so the doctor will monitor this to guide treatment.