This section is from the book "A Treatise On Therapeutics, And Pharmacology Or Materia Medica Vol1", by George B. Wood. Also available from Amazon: Part 1 and Part 2.
Phosphorus is generally admitted to be irritant to the stomach, and powerfully stimulant to the system, especially to the circulation. It is said also to stimulate the nervous centres, strongly to excite the sexual appetite, and to promote the secretions, especially those of the skin and kidneys. Its stimulant action is highly diffusible, operating promptly and but for a short time, so that to sustain its effects, the dose must be frequently repeated.
When given in moderate medicinal doses, it is said to occasion a feeling of warmth in the stomach, to increase the frequency and fulness of the pulse and the heat of the skin, to invigorate the mental functions and muscular power, to stimulate the sexual organs even to priapism in the male, and to act more or less energetically as a sudorific and diuretic. It is asserted that the urine sometimes becomes phosphorescent, and that a garlic odour may be perceived in the breath. When an oleaginous solution of phosphorus is thrown into the veins of an animal, the expired air becomes luminous in the dark, showing that phosphorus is eliminated by the lungs; and, if the animal be killed and examined, these organs are everywhere congested, and spots of yellowish hepatization are found here and there. (C1. Bernard, Med. T. and Gaz., April, 1860, p. 390).
Given more largely, it often causes burning pain in the stomach, vomiting, purging, and great epigastric tenderness; and, in its highest degree of action upon that organ, gives rise to severe inflammation, and sometimes even to gangrene and perforation. Upon the system at large the poisonous action is said, after great excitement, evinced by a rapid pulse, heat of skin, headache, giddiness, sometimes delirium, pains and cramps in the extremities, paralysis in different parts of the body, and various other symptoms, to be accompanied with convulsions and insensibility before death. A jaundiced hue of the surface has often been noticed. The probability, however, is that, in most fatal cases, the result has been attributable to intense inflammation or disorganization of the mucous membrane of the stomach. The quantity capable of causing death is exceedingly variable. Lobelstein Lobel asserts that he has seen poisoning produced in a maniac twenty-five minutes after the administration of one-eighth of a grain in substance (Merat et de Lent, v. 281); Dr. Christison mentions au instance of fatal result from one grain and a half: while Dr. Pereira once administered sixteen grains to Chabert, famous as the fire king, without any injurious consequences. (Pereira. Mat. Med., 3d ed., p. 332.) In certain cases of fatal poisoning, putrefaction is said to have been singularly retarded. (Arch. Gen., 5e ser., p. 374).
(N. Orleans Med. and Surg. Journ., x. 736.) Dr. Crawford, however, of N. Orleans, found that absolute alcohol dissolves two grains to the fluidounce. [Med. Times and Gaz., Feb. 1859, p. 222).
* It is an interesting fact, in relation to phosphorus, that its slow combustion in the air is entirely prevented when the air is impregnated with the vapours from tar. The same effect is produced even more rapidly by several of the volatile oils, as those of mint, lemons, and turpentine, and by the vapours of benzine. (Journ. de Pharm. et de Chim., 3e ser., xxxix. 331 and 414.) - Note to the third edition.
A slow poisoning results from long exposure to the fumes of phosphorus, as in the manufacture of Lucifer matches. The operation of the poison is said to be first experienced, occasionally at least, in toothache and caries of the teeth; but necrosis of the jaws is the ultimate and characteristic effect. This has been ascribed by some to the direct action of the fumes upon the bone through the teeth; but it is scarcely possible that an acrid substance should act so powerfully from without, and yet exhibit no effect on the soft parts; and phosphoric acid, which has been conjectured to be the agent, does not act similarly upon those exposed to the air of factories impregnated with it. Besides, the disease of the jaws is not the only effect Sallowness of the complexion. bloated face, a dull expression of the eye, and gastric derangement have also been noticed; and a case is on record in which copious inhalation of the vapour produced various functional derangement, ending in failure of the sexual functions, paralysis, and death in three years. (Arch. Gen., Feb. 1853, p. 219 ) The probability is that the fumes of the phosphorus, consisting either of phosphorous or hypophosphorous acid, enter the circulation through the lungs, and act specifically on the jaws, mercury does on the gums.
The fumes of phosphorus are said to be locally irritant to the mucous membranes of the eye and the air passages, and to have produced serious inflammation in the latter. When phosphorus is burned in contact with the skin, it sometimes leaves a peculiarly troublesome and obstinate ulceration behind it, as I have experienced in my own person. This has-been ascribed to the irritant properties of the phosphoric acid remaining in the wound.