Mushrooms: A deadly fall poisoning hazard

Illinois Poison Center experts warn residents about the dangers of mushrooms

CHICAGO—As cooler, damper weather sets in during the fall months, Illinois residents will begin to see mushrooms growing in their yards and in nearby forest preserves. Illinois Poison Center experts advise not to touch or eat any of these wild mushrooms because they may be dangerous, possibly even deadly.

“Mushrooms will again be popping up around Illinois—and not just in the wild, but in household lawns and neighborhood parks, too,” explained Dr. Michael Wahl, managing medical director of the Illinois Poison Center. “It’s very important to warn children and adults about the potential dangers of eating these mushrooms.”

Wild mushrooms pose health risks

Certain mushrooms, such as the false morel, may cause vomiting, abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea. More serious signs of poisoning may include seizures, coma and death. Other mushrooms, such as the Psilocybe species, contain a hallucinogen. People who have eaten these mushrooms suffered from vivid hallucinations and flashbacks.

The most poisonous mushrooms are members of the Amanita family, which are responsible for most of the mushroom-related deaths that occur each year. These mushrooms contain a substance that can cause liver damage. Tragically, these mushrooms do not produce symptoms until many hours after they are eaten, often resulting in delayed treatment and adverse outcomes. That is why it is critical not to wait for symptoms to appear; if a poisoning is suspected, call the poison center at 1-800-222-1222 immediately.

Edible mushrooms potentially dangerous

In fact, eating raw wild mushrooms or spoiled mushrooms can cause illness, with symptoms similar to those of food poisoning. Vomiting, diarrhea and other stomach problems may occur. Discard mushrooms that are discolored, slimy or have a bad odor.

Identification best left to experts

A mushroom could be poisonous if it has any of the following characteristics (please note: the following list should not be used as a definitive guide in determining whether a mushroom is poisonous):

warts or scales on the cap or top of the mushroom;

a ring of tissue around the upper part of the stem; and/or

the base of the stem looks like a bulb or has a separate cup of tissue.

Mushroom identification is extremely difficult and complex, and is best left to the experts, who are known as mycologists. The Illinois Poison Center recommends not eating any wild mushroom unless you are 100 percent sure it is not poisonous.

Each individual may experience symptoms differently, and as with most poisons, symptoms experienced will depend on many factors, such as age, weight, amount consumed, etc.

What to do in an emergency

If you or someone you know may have eaten a potentially poisonous mushroom, call the Illinois Poison Center immediately at 1-800-222-1222. The IPC recommends you collect the mushroom in question and carefully dig up a few additional mushrooms, complete with underground parts, to help with the identification. If there is more than one kind of mushroom in the area, collect all of the different types. Note if the mushroom was growing on wood, soil or other material, or if it was growing alone or in clusters. The IPC specialist may ask you to take digital photos, if possible. The poison center staff will then contact expert mycologists at the Field Museum in Chicago for identification of the mushroom using the digital photographs.

From the Oct. 26-Nov. 1, 2005, issue

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