Harmful Effects of Xylene

Xylene is a powerful chemical compound that is found in many household and industrial items. This chemical is colorless but has a very distinctive odor. Products that contain xylene include paints, varnishes, fingernail polish, adhesives, rubber cement and gasoline. Exposure to xylene in any fashion whether it be inhaled, ingested, skin contact or eye contact can cause some harmful health effects.

A woman is painting her toenails. Credit: Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

Eye Contact

Eye exposure to xylene vapor is the most common form of exposure. Individuals may experience redness, pain, swelling, tearing and hazy vision after exposure to the vapor. If eye exposure occurs, hold eyes open and flush with water for a minimum of fifteen minutes.

Skin Contact

Skin exposure to xylene may cause some minor skin irritation. If xylene is absorbed into the skin, effects such as redness, swelling, pain, itching and dryness may occur. To prevent these symptoms from occurring, wash exposed area with soap and water for at least 15 minutes after exposure. If symptoms are persistent, seek medical attention.


Inhalation of xylene or xylene vapor is the most dangerous type of exposure to this chemical. The most common side effect of inhaled xylene is depression of the central nervous system causing dizziness, headache, nausea and vomiting. Irritation of the nose and throat may also occur with low-level inhalation of xylene.

If large amounts of xylene are inhaled, much more serious effects are likely to occur. Exposure to high concentrations of xylene can result in liver damage, kidney damage, loss of coordination, loss of consciousness, respiratory failure and even death.


If xylene is inadvertently ingested or swallowed, it can be slightly toxic to the human body. Ingestion of xylene will cause a depression of the central nervous system resulting in dizziness, nausea and vomiting. Aspiration of xylene into the lungs during ingestion or vomiting can result in very serious health consequences.


Aspiration of xylene into the lungs during ingestion or vomiting may result in serious injuries to the lungs or even death. If small quantities of xylene are aspirated, individuals may experience coughing, choking, shortness of breath, blue color of the skin, rapid respiratory rate and rapid heart rate. If large quantities of xylene are aspirated into the lungs, pulmonary edema, pulmonary bleeding, coma, seizures or death may occur. It should be noted that these symptoms may occur immediately or as long as 24 hours after aspiration.

Is This an Emergency?

If you are experiencing serious medical symptoms, seek emergency treatment immediately.
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