A toxin is a poison made by living cells or organisms. Toxins can cause health problems on contact or when they are absorbed by the body.
The severity of a reaction to a toxin varies greatly. A bee sting causes a minor reaction in most people. But eating food containing botulinum toxin can cause a deadly reaction. Usually, the severity of the health problem caused by a toxin depends on:
- How often a person is exposed to the toxin.
- How much toxin was in contact with or absorbed by the body.
- How poisonous the toxin is.
Treatment can be as simple as staying away from the toxin and limiting future exposure. In some cases, treatment with substances, such as anti-venom, can prevent serious illness.
Fortunately, the levels of most toxins in the environment are low.
Last Revised: November 18, 2011
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review: Sarah Marshall, MD - Family Medicine & Brian D. O'Brien, MD - Internal Medicine & Peter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH - Occupational and Environmental Medicine
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Is it an emergency?
If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be life-threatening. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately. If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.