Toxin

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 Updated: September 21, 2009

Author: Maria Essig

Medical Review: Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine & Peter Rabinowitz, MD, MPH - Occupational and Environmental Medicine

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