Nicotine is a toxic substance most commonly found in cigarettes, nicotine patches, nicotine gum and e-liquid (liquid for electronic cigarettes). It comes from the tobacco plant, and while it can be separated for use in smoking cessation products, it is usually kept with the tobacco for use in cigarettes.
When smoked, nicotine causes addiction in those who use it. But nicotine ingestion causes a host of other problems that are more common in nicotine overdosing or nicotine poisoning.
How Nicotine Is Ingested
When smoked, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream, urine, hair and skin. But to be ingested, someone would have to physically consume a cigarette, nicotine patch, e-liquid or other source of nicotine. This is most likely to happen in a household that has both small children and nicotine users. The child may get hold of some sort of nicotine product and start eating it.
While anyone can suffer the deleterious effects of nicotine ingestion, it is small children and sickly people who are most likely to suffer severe effects. Their immune systems are not as strong as the average adult, and they likely are not used to the effects of nicotine.
Ingesting nicotine is much like smoking numerous cigarettes or using a series of nicotine patches all at once. Most people who smoke or use these products are not going to suffer the same effects as someone who actually ingests them into their system.
The Effects of Ingestion
Ingesting nicotine usually causes an overdose, also known as nicotine poisoning. There is a specific set of symptoms associated with this occurrence.
The effects start rather mildly, but the greater the amount ingested, the faster they will affect the whole of the body and become very severe. A small ingestion will cause the brain to be deprived of some oxygen and raise the person’s blood pressure. What this does is create jitters, cold sweats, insomnia, alack of coordination, palpitations and more. These are just the preliminary symptoms, and the body will quickly move onto more sever ones in most cases.
As the body is deprived of more and more oxygen and the nicotine reaches the brain and various systems of the body, the symptoms all become more severe. What started as jittery movements turns into seizures. What were once heart palpitations turns to cardiac arrest. The body can start to shut down.
A massive dose of nicotine will actually turn off the brain and cause death, as no oxygen will be able to reach the brain. This shuts down major motor functions and is characterized by paranoia, panic attacks and seizures in its early stages.
These are many of the same symptoms that occur when someone overdoses on nicotine when they are smoking, using smoking cessation products or a combination of the two. But that kind of overdose usually happens over a long period of time, perhaps a few days or many hours. If the nicotine is ingested all at once, then the symptoms and effects ramp up quickly, moving from rather mild ones to extremely severe ones. It would not take long for a small child to go from having ingested the cigarette or other nicotine product to suffering a fatal heart attack.
As mentioned, the effects are worse for those who are small, young or frail. Their body cannot handle the effects ofthe overdose as easily as a grown person could. Their heart is more susceptible to these negative effects, and their brains require a steadier supply of oxygen.
The same condition that could be treated and cured over time in an adult will prove fatal for a child.
Preventing Nicotine Ingestion
For those who have both nicotine products and children in their home, the best way to prevent accidental ingestion is to keep these products far from their reach. They should be stored too high for the children to reach or in a secure cabinet that they cannot access.
At no time should these products be left out, even for a moment. Children can get hold of them and quickly put them in their mouth before parents even realize what is happening.
For those who are going to be around children and who use these products, it is a good idea to leave the nicotine products at home or to at least keep them on their person at all times. They should not be let out of their sight, because their effects on children can be both highly dangerous and instantaneous.