Diagnosis of arsenic poisoning, especially
from low doses of inorganic arsenic, the type found in CCA lumber, is not
easy. There is no one set of symptoms. Different people respond differently,
depending on how much exposure they get, and by what means. Arsenic can
be inhaled, ingested (swallowed) or absorbed through contact. Arsenic poisoning
is difficult to pin down because most of the arsenic leaves the body within
three days of exposure. The arsenic which remains is stored in the
brain, bones, and tissue and continues to do serious damage. Some people
have no immediate symptoms, but the exposure can cause many types of cancer
or diabetes later on. There is new evidence that arsenic may also lead
to heart disease or
Arsenic exposure, even at low levels,
can result in a range of symptoms. Swallowing or inhaling low levels of
inorganic arsenic can result in stomach ache, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
It can also result in decreased production of red and white blood cells
which may cause fatigue, abnormal heart rhythm, blood-vessel damage resulting
in bruising, and impaired nerve function. One of the early warning signs
of arsenic poisoning is a "pins and needles" sensation in hands and
Other signs and symptoms include skin thickening, fluid accumulation (resulting in puffiness) especially around the lower eyelids, face and ankles, diarrhea, garlic breath, perspiration, excessive salivation, generalized itching, oral inflammation, sore throat, runny nose, excessive tearing, numbness, skin inflammation, hair loss, weakness, and loss of appetite. Arsenic can also cause a range of neurological effects, including headaches and vision problems. It can cause noticeable behavioral changes, most commonly aggression or depression.
Because most arsenic leaves your body within a few days, analysis of urine cannot detect if a person was exposed to arsenic in the past. Tests of hair or fingernails can determine exposure to high levels of arsenic over the past 6-12 months, but these tests are not very useful in detecting low-level exposures.
Early treatment of arsenic poisoning
is critical. The longer arsenic remains in the body, the more damage
is done. If arsenic poisoning is determined, oxygen therapy, chelation
therapy, saunas and other methods used for detoxification of heavy metals
is the usual treatment. There is some new information that selenium may
help decrease the effects of arsenic. Naturopaths may be able to help with
diagnosis and treatment with other methods.