Serious toxicity can result from exposure to small amounts of methyl salicylate. Methyl salicylate is widely available as a component in many over-the-counter brands of creams, ointments, lotions, liniments and medicated oils intended for topical application to relieve musculoskeletal aches and pains. Among the most potent forms of methyl salicylate is oil of wintergreen (98% methyl salicylate). Other products with varying concentrations of methyl salicylate are ubiquitous throughout many parts of the world, including a number of products marketed as Asian herbal remedies. The toxic potential of all of these formulations is often underestimated by health care providers and the general public. A comprehensive review of the existing medical literature on methyl salicylate poisoning was performed, and data compiled over the past two decades by the American Association of Poison Control Centers (AAPCC) was examined. Methyl salicylate continues to be a relatively common source of pediatric exposures. Persistent reports of life-threatening and fatal toxicity were found. In children less than 6 years of age, a teaspoon (5 mL) or less of oil of wintergreen has been implicated in several well-documented deaths. More needs to be done to educate both health care providers and the general public regarding the dangers of these widely available formulations.
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