What Is Phytotoxicity?

Phytotoxicity is a term used to define plant toxicity caused by pesticides or other chemicals. Plant toxins are substances produced by plants that cause harm to humans and animals when ingested, inhaled, absorbed through the skin or otherwise come into contact with them. There are many types of plant toxins and they vary widely in their effects on human health. Some may produce only minor symptoms while others can lead to death if not treated properly.

The term “phytotoxic” refers to the harmful effect of a pesticide or chemical substance on living organisms. For example, the toxic effects of DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) were called phytotoxicity because it was thought that it could kill all life forms in the ocean. However, studies have shown that there are no negative effects on marine life from this compound.

How Does Phytotoxicity Affect Humans?

It is believed that phytotoxicity affects humans primarily through the nervous system. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, headaches and even seizures. These symptoms can occur within hours to days after exposure to a toxin. Most commonly these symptoms appear in children under six years old and adults over 65 years of age. Other possible signs include difficulty breathing, convulsions or coma.

What Are the Causes of Phytotoxicity?

There are many causes of phytotoxicity. Some of the most common are plants such as castor bean, hog peanut and milkweed. These plants contain poisonous substances in their leaves, stems, roots or seeds that can be harmful if eaten or touched. Another common cause of phytotoxicity is bacteria in the water supply. This can happen when humans or animals contaminate the water with their feces. Certain kinds of plants such as puffer fish contain toxins and can cause poisoning when eaten.

How Is It Treated?

Treatment for phytotoxicity is mainly focused on relieving the symptoms. A physician may give drugs to treat the difficulty breathing, stomach pain, vomiting or diarrhea. Fluid may be given through an IV to prevent dehydration. In severe cases dialysis may be needed to remove toxins from the blood stream.

How Can You Avoid It?

The best way to avoid phytotoxicity is to not touch plants or consume food that has come into contact with them. It is also important not to eat wild berries, or other plants unless you can positively identify them. When eating fruits and vegetables it is recommended that you wash them thoroughly before eating. If you have a cut or break in your skin, do not go in the water as this increases your risk of coming into contact with harmful microorganisms in the water.

If you are the parent of a young child, it is important to keep poisonous substances such as medication, cleaning products and plant pesticides locked up and out of reach. If you or someone in your family is elderly or has a medical condition, it is especially important to be diligent about following correct food safety procedures.

It can also be helpful to follow online guidelines for avoiding dangerous microorganisms in the water. Here is a list of water safety tips from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):

If you are on vacation, take note of whether the water looks clean or not. If there is a lot of debris floating in the water, don’t go in. Also be careful about water that has a foul odor.

If you do go in the water, make sure to not ingest it.

Remember that swimming in freshwater when it is warm outside is generally safer than swimming in the ocean. This is because coastal water contains more bacteria than freshwater sources do.

Make sure to take note of the water’s visibility. Clear water is generally safe to swim in. If you can’t see your feet when you are in the water, don’t go in.

If you must swim in cloudy water, make sure to avoid any water that looks like it is coming from a sewage source or an area that has a lot of trash.

If you have a cut or open wound, don’t go in the water as this can cause the wound to become infected with bacteria.

Remember that lakes and rivers are safer than the ocean because there is less traffic and the water hasn’t been treated before reaching you.

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Beaches that are monitored and cleaned regularly are generally safer than other beaches.

When you get out of the water, dry off immediately to avoid getting a rash or absorbing bacteria through your skin. If you have long hair, keep it tied up while swimming. This prevents the hair from trapping potentially dangerous organisms in it when you swim.

Try not to go swimming right after you eat, as this allows more time for potentially dangerous organisms to get in your stomach.

How Do You Treat It?

The best way to treat a water related illness is to prevent it in the first place. If you do get sick, the most important thing is to stay hydrated if you are vomiting or have diarrhea. Try to sip on clear fluids such as Gatorade to replenish your electrolytes.

You may also take over-the-counter drugs to relieve your symptoms. These can include drugs such as Imodium, Pepto-Bismol and Tylenol. If you are experiencing bloody diarrhea or vomiting, seek medical attention right away as this can lead to organ failure.


What Are Some Common Poisons & How Do They Affect The Body?

Some of the most common types of poisons include medications, chemicals, plants and animal bites or stings. It is important to get immediate medical attention if you think that you or someone else has been poisoned. Even if you don’t know exactly what the person swallowed, it is important to get help right away as some poisons act very quickly and can lead to death within minutes.

Common signs and symptoms of poisoning can include:





Nausea or vomiting.


Slurred speech.


What Is Phytotoxicity: Information About Phytotoxicity In Plants - Picture

Diagnosing poisoning can be a complex process, so it is important to get a full medical checkup if you believe you or someone else has been poisoned.

Common Poisons:

Here are some of the most common types of poison and how they affect the body:

Acids: acids can cause severe burns on skin and in the mouth, throat and digestive tract. They can also cause permanent blindness if splashed into someone’s eyes. Some examples of acids include battery acid, Draino, toilet bowl cleaners and lemon juice.

Acids can cause severe burns on skin and in the mouth, throat and digestive tract.

Sources & references used in this article:

Zinc phytotoxicity by RL Chaney – Zinc in soils and plants, 1993 – Springer

Database assessment of phytotoxicity data published on terrestrial vascular plants by JS Fletcher, FL Johnson… – … and Chemistry: An …, 1988 – Wiley Online Library

Interactions between engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) and plants: phytotoxicity, uptake and accumulation by X Ma, J Geiser-Lee, Y Deng, A Kolmakov – Science of the total environment, 2010 – Elsevier



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