Hydrogen sulfide is a highly toxic and flammable gas that occurs naturally in crude petroleum, natural gas, volcanic gasses and hot springs. Unfortunately, just a few breaths of air containing high levels of this gas can cause serious, potentially life-threatening side effects. Signs and symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning may include shock, convulsions, coma, and even death.
What is Hydrogen Sulfide?
Hydrogen sulfide is a colorless but highly toxic gas that has a distinctive rotten-egg odor. The compound is a natural byproduct of decaying organic matter released from sewage sludge, liquid manure, sulfur hot springs, and natural petroleum. Hydrogen sulfide is used in a number of different industries, and is released by processes such as mining, oil refining, and rayon manufacturing.
Hydrogen Sulfide Side Effects
Even in small amounts, hydrogen sulfide has an unmistakeable rotten-egg smell. However, with exposure over extended periods of time, the gas may deaden a person’s sense of smell. If the characteristic odor is no longer detectable, it does not necessarily mean that you are no longer in the presence of the gas. At low to moderate levels, signs and symptoms of hydrogen sulfide poisoning may include:
- irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
- difficulty breathing
Exposure to higher levels of hydrogen sulfide may lead to:
Treatment & Complications
Specific tests to detect hydrogen sulfide in the blood and urine are generally ineffective and not particularly useful to the doctor. If a person has been exposed to high levels of the gas, blood and urine analysis may be able to show whether the brain, nerves, heart or kidneys have been damaged. If hydrogen sulfide was inhaled, blood tests and a chest x-ray may be used to tell if the lungs have been injured. Testing is not required in every case of hydrogen sulfide poisoning.
Unfortunately, there is currently no known antidote for hydrogen sulfide poisoning. However, side effects can be treated symptomatically, and most people exposed eventually make a full recovery. Individuals exposed to high levels of the gas may require emergency hospitalization. A single exposure from which a patient recovers quickly is not likely to cause long-term complications, but a serious exposure that induces a coma or convulsions may permanently damage the brain and heart.