Toxicity is the level to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage an organism and act like poison. It can refer to the effect of a whole organism like an animal, bacterium, or plant, and on the organism’s structure, like a cell or an organ(liver).

Definition of Acute Toxicity and Chronic Toxicity 

Acute Toxicity 

It is caused by an excessive single dose which is equal to a fatal dose. There are different types of acute drug fatalities. 

  • Primary Drug Fatalities 

Victim dies primarily because of the toxic or harmful effect of drugs or poison. It may contribute to the influence of pre-existing unrelated Diseases.

  • Secondary Drug Fatalities 

Victim dies from secondary complications of drugs such as viral hepatitis. It occurs primarily due to the use of contaminated needles during drug abuse. 

  • Drug Associated Fatalities 

Violence like accidental, suicidal, homicidal are arising directly or indirectly from the actions related to receiving and using illegal drugs. 

Chronic Toxicity 

It is caused by very minute doses taken over a long period of time. It is seen in occupational poisoning such as Plumbism. The typical poison used is Arsenic. Later the person may die of gastroenteritis. 

  • Acute on chronic toxicity 
  • Earlier, the victim is suffering from chronic toxicity. Acute toxicity also occurs upon it. This type of toxicity mostly happens in the case of chronic drug abuse, as one day, the victim takes more than the usual dose. 

Difference Between Acute and Chronic Toxicity

Acute Toxicity Chronic Toxicity 
Single doseEffects over long period of time 
Effects seen in first 2 to 4 days May be taken years to become evident 
High dosesLow doses 
Symptoms may be reversible Typically not reversible 

Examples of Acute Toxicity 

  • Inhalation of high concentrations of acid vapors might cause serious burns of the mouth and the airways leading to the lungs.
  • Paracetamol is the most common drug used for drug abuse by taking an overdose.
  • Mercury is the type of substance that can lead to acute toxicities. Symptoms of acute toxicity include- Shortness of breath, Tremors, Increased excitability, and Respiratory failure, etc.
  • Chlorine is an extremely powerful and poisonous chemical used to disinfect surfaces like floors. If it is drunk accidentally, then the symptoms include- Extreme abdominal pain, Blood in the stool, Burns on his esophagus, and, consequently, throat pain and Swelling of the throat.

Examples of Chronic Toxicity 

  • Inhalation of certain acid vapors at concentrations may, over long periods, cause loss of tooth enamel, eventually leading to extensive tooth decay.
  • Mercury: High-level exposure to methylmercury (Minamata disease) exposure in children may result in acrodynia (pink disease), in which the skin becomes pink and peels. Long-term problems may include kidney problems and decreased intelligence.
  • Chlorine: Chlorine gas toxicity exposure over a long period at relatively low levels may cause pulmonary problems like acute wheezing attacks, chronic cough with phlegm, and asthma.
  • Arsenic: Chronic arsenic toxicity results in multisystem disease. It is a human carcinogen affecting numerous organs.


Acute toxicity is differentiated from chronic toxicity by describing the adverse health effects from repeated exposures, often at lower levels, to a substance over a longer period (months or years) and a single high dose over a short period.

Categories: Toxicology


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