Pencils are writing instruments. This article discusses the health problems that may occur if you swallow a pencil.
This is for information only and not for use in the treatment or management of an actual poison exposure. If you have an exposure, you should call your local emergency number (such as 911) or the National Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.
Despite common belief, pencils have never contained lead. All pencils are made of graphite, which is a soft form of carbon. Carbon is a completely different element than lead.
Graphite is relatively nonpoisonous. There may be no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they may include stomachache and vomiting, which could reflect the presence of a bowel obstruction (blockage).
The person may choke while swallowing the pencil. This can cause symptoms such as repeated coughing, chest pain, shortness of breath, or rapid breathing. See: Choking
Sometimes, children will place a piece of a pencil in their nose. This can cause symptoms such as nose pain and drainage, and breathing problems.
Graphite is relatively nonpoisonous. Contact poison control for further information.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- The person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
- The time it was swallowed
- The amount swallowed
The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) can be called from anywhere in the United States. This national hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Take the container with you to the hospital, if possible.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Symptoms will be treated as appropriate.
Recovery is likely. If a piece of a pencil is stuck up the nose and left there for an extended period of time, infection or damage to the lining of the nose can occur. A procedure may be needed to remove any pencil that is stuck in the nose, airways, or gastrointestinal tract.
Graphite poisoning; Swallowing pencils
Haddad J Jr. Acquired disorders of the nose. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007:chap 374.
Update Date 1/29/2014
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.