A non-metallic element made from bones, by treating bone-ash with sulphuric acid and water. It is a semi-transparent, almost colorless, wax-like solid, with a peculiar garlic odor; it is luminous in the dark, is insoluble in water, and soluble in ether and in oils.

Phosphorus is a constituent of the most important tissues of the body, especially of the nervous system, where it exists as phosphorized fats. In the bones it is present as phosphate of calcium, magnesium, and sodium. It is contained in various articles of food, especially in fish and vegetables.

Physiological Actions

In small doses phosphorus acts as a tonic and alterative, and stimulates the nutritive processes, especially in the case of the nervous and bony tissues. Given for a considerable length of time in small doses it affects the structure of bone, and makes the spongy portion firm and compact. The heart is stimulated by medicinal doses of phosphorus, and the temperature slightly raised.

Full doses given for a long time disturb the stomach, producing eructations of gas (phosphide of hydrogen), and depress the heart. Perspiration and urine are increased by phosphorus, and the latter becomes reddish and has the odor of violets.

Phosphorus poisoning causes grave changes in metabolism, indicated by lessened oxidation, and fatty degeneration in all the tissues of the body and cirrhosis of the various organs, stomach, liver, and kidneys, as well as necrosis of bone, especially of the jaw.

Phosphorus is an irritant poison, and the symptoms vary somewhat according to the state in which it is taken, appearing more quickly after taking a solution in oil, or the paste used as a vermin killer, than after match heads or ordinary phosphorus have been used. In the latter case the symptoms do not come on at once; some hours usually - sometimes one or two days - intervening before they show themselves. Then epigastric pain and burning begin, with a burning sensation in the throat, a taste of garlic in the mouth, and an odor of garlic to the breath; great thirst, nausea, and vomiting. During the first eight or ten hours the vomited matters have a garlic odor and are luminous in the dark, and if purging occurs, the faecal matters are sometimes luminous, as is also the urine. Vomiting sometimes continues through the whole of the attack, but usually stops about the second or third day. Jaundice is a characteristic but not an invariable symptom. It appears from the third to the fifth day, and with it vomiting may reappear, exuded blood giving a peculiar appearance which is described as "coffee-ground." There is great prostration, with a small, frequent, almost imperceptible pulse, and cold skin. The mind may remain clear, or there may be noisy delirium. Sometimes convulsions occur, or paralysis. Death may take place suddenly from collapse and paralysis of the heart, but more commonly the patient dies comatose from gradual failure of respiration and circulation. The time at which death occurs varies from a few hours to several weeks, the average time being several days or a week.

The fatal dose is stated to be between gr. 3/4 and ii., though it may vary according to circumstances, and large quantities have been recovered from.

Treatment Of Poisoning

The chemical antidote is the crude French acid turpentine, which is given in doses of 3 ss. every fifteen minutes. After the poison has entered the blood there is no known antidote, and therefore emetics and purgatives are of the greatest importance. Sulphate of copper is the emetic used, and forms an insoluble compound, phosphide of copper. It is given in dilute solution, gr. ii. at a time, every five minutes until vomiting is caused, and after that in small doses, gr. 1/2, every twenty minutes as long as ordered. Hydrated magnesia may be used as a purgative. Mucilaginous and albuminous drinks are given, and all oils and fats carefully avoided, both in medicine and nourishment, as they dissolve phosphorus and hasten its absorption.

Chronic phosphorus poisoning is found among artisans who are exposed to the fumes, and is especially characterized by necrosis of the jaw. This form of poisoning is not as common now, since improved ways of making matches have been introduced, as it once was.

Preparations Of Phosphorus

Pilulae Phosphori. Pills Of Phosphorus

Each contains gr. 1/100 of phosphorus. (0.0006 Gm.)

Calcii Potassii Hypophosphis. Calcium Potassium Hypophosphite

Average dose of each, gr. viii.-0.5 Gm.

Sodii Hypophosphis. Sodium Hypophosphite

Average dose, gr. xv.-i Gm.

Syrupus Hypophosphitum. Syrup Of Hypophosphites

Contains hypophosphite of lime, about gr. iii. to ʒ i., and of soda and potash each about gr. i. to ʒ i., with diluted hypophosphorous acid, glycerine, and sugar. Average dose, ʒ iiss.-io mils, diluted.