White Phosphorus Exposure Clinical Presentation

Updated: Jan 06, 2022
  • Author: Lisandro Irizarry, MD, MBA, MPH, FACEP; Chief Editor: Zygmunt F Dembek, PhD, MS, MPH, LHD  more...
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Since most exposures to white phosphorus occur in the military setting with the use of munitions, a history frequently is obtained easily. However, it may be necessary to solicit a history about suicidality or possible accidental ingestion in a patient with signs or symptoms of exposure. Be aware of unconscious individuals with a history of percussion injuries from white phosphorus–containing munitions, who may pose an exposure hazard to the health care provider.


Physical Examination

Direct the physical examination toward the identification of traumatic and burn injuries. Pay particular attention to areas where phosphorus may be embedded as a result of explosion.

Fully expose the patient for the primary survey. Exercise care when handling potentially contaminated clothing to prevent secondary exposure and burns to the health care provider.

Patients who have ingested white phosphorus present with nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Those who present with nausea, vomiting, and hypotension generally deteriorate rapidly and may enter a coma. [10] 11 Inhalation of white phosphorus fumes can result in chemical pneumonitis. [8]