A mushroom is a fungus that grows on wet, moist surfaces such as lawns, dead tree trunks, fences and wooded areas. There are about 5,000 different kinds of mushrooms in North America, but only eight types are considered poisonous. Even though most mushrooms are edible, mushrooms that grow wild should never be eaten.
Poison control centers usually get two types of calls about mushroom ingestion/poisoning:
These range from stomachaches, drowsiness and confusion, to heart, liver and kidney damage. The symptoms may occur soon after eating a mushroom or can be delayed for six to 24 hours.
The most commonly ingested poisonous mushrooms are "gastrointestinal irritants." They are called "back yard mushrooms" or "field mushrooms." These mushrooms cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach pain. The symptoms can start 30 minutes to three hours after they are eaten and symptoms usually stop in one or two days.
The majority of deaths from poisonous mushrooms are caused by Amanitas or "death caps." Death caps are not unique in appearance and can easily be mistaken for nonpoisonous species. They do not have a distinct taste or smell, and the toxin is not destroyed by cooking. Symptoms from eating death caps are typically delayed for six to 24 hours. At first your child may experience severe stomach pain, vomiting and diarrhea. A few days later symptoms can progress to blood disorders, seizures, liver and kidney damage.
The close physical similarities of many of these mushrooms make it difficult for anyone but a trained expert (mycologist) to differentiate them. To make matters worse, most poisonous mushrooms resemble edible mushrooms at some phase of their growth. So, the best prevention against mushroom poisonings is to assume that all wild mushrooms are unsafe to eat.
What should you do if your child puts one in his or her mouth? Don't panic! Call your poison control center for guidance on what to do. It is important that you call as soon after the ingestion as possible. Refrigerate the uneaten portion of the mushroom in a bag clearly marked "poison" in case later identification will be needed. If delayed symptoms do occur (six to 24 hours after ingestion), your child will have to be seen in the emergency department.
Call our 24-hour toll-free emergency hotline