Liquid Nicotine in E-Cigarettes Rising Cause of Poisonings: CDC
Calls to poison control centers have jumped, ingestion could be deadly for kids, experts report
In the meantime, McAfee advised keeping these devices, and their refills, out of the reach of children.
"These should be treated with the same caution one would use for bleach. In some ways, this is more toxic than bleach," he said.
Poisoning from the liquid nicotine in e-cigarettes can happen in one of three ways: by swallowing it; inhaling it; or absorbing it through the skin or membranes in the mouth and lips or eyes, McAfee said. Once it is in a person's system, nicotine can cause nausea, vomiting or seizures.
If those symptoms are occurring, the patient will typically be told to go straight to the emergency room, said Amy Hanoian-Fontana, from the Connecticut Poison Control Center.
If there are no symptoms, then the patient will be told to stay home and the center will call again in a few hours to see how the patient is doing. If liquid nicotine was spilled on the skin, the person should wash his or her skin in lukewarm water for about 20 minutes, Hanoian-Fontana added.
"We want to know what happened, when it happened and if the person is having any effects from the liquid nicotine," she explained. "Then we are going to make a determination whether this is something we can keep at home, or if they are having severe symptoms we may recommend that they go into the emergency department. It's very case-based, depending on the situation."
McAfee noted that the nicotine poisoning problem may be even bigger than the CDC report indicates.
"All we are reporting is calls to poison control centers. There are many people who had an episode, but didn't call a poison control center. This report also doesn't include people who had such severe symptoms that they called 911 or went to an emergency room," he said.
The report is published in the April 4 issue of the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
As part of the study, the researchers compared the monthly volume of calls to poison centers involving e-cigarettes and regular cigarettes. They found the proportion of e-cigarette-related calls jumped from 0.3 percent in September 2010 to 41.7 percent in February 2014.