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Camphor poisoning in children

Shan Yin, MD, MPH
Section Editor
Michele M Burns, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


Camphor is an essential oil originally derived from the camphor tree, Cinnamomum camphora, but now primarily produced from turpentine [1]. It is a terpenoid, which is a large family of naturally occurring hydrocarbons. Pediatric overdose of camphor can cause refractory seizures. Despite this potential for serious toxicity, camphor-containing products remain widely available.

This topic will discuss the clinical features, diagnosis and management of camphor poisoning in children. The approach to pediatric poisoning caused by over-the-counter (OTC) cough medications is discussed separately. (See "Over-the-counter cough and cold preparations: Approach to pediatric poisoning", section on 'Approach'.)


Approximately 11,000 pediatric camphor exposures are reported to United States poison control centers annually [2]. Exploratory ingestion of camphor-containing products by children younger than six years of age is most common, accounting for about 80 percent of exposures. Rarely, excessive topical exposure by a caregiver has been described [3,4]. Although the majority of exposures result in minor or no toxicity, refractory seizures can occur. (See 'Clinical features' below.)


Camphor is marketed for topical use for cough suppression, nasal decongestion, cold sore ointments, muscle liniments, and rubefacients (table 1) [1]. Preparations for treatment of cough and cold symptoms in children typically advise application of a thick layer to the chest or throat three to four times daily [5]. Camphorated liquid for use in vaporizers is also available. Despite significant potential for toxicity, camphor products remain widely available. (See 'Clinical features' below.)

Formulations — In the United States, the concentration of over-the-counter (OTC) camphor products is limited to 11 percent (table 1). Products from some foreign countries are unregulated and may not be labeled including solid camphor for religious ceremonies and pest control and liquid camphor for dermal and inhalational use [3,4].

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Sep 04, 2017.
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