The Poison Control Center handles hundreds of calls each year about inhalation exposures. Surprisingly, most of the exposures to toxic fumes occur in the home.
Improper mixing of household substances or chemicals, prolonged use of strong cleaning products or malfunctioning household appliances can result in exposure to potentially hazardous fumes. Toxic fumes may irritate the lungs or may affect the heart and the nervous system.
When to seek immediate medical attention
- You experience shortness of breath or chest pains.
- You have a history of respiratory disease such as asthma, emphysema, bronchitis, etc.
- The symptoms are severe and/or prolonged (over 24 hours).
- You suspect carbon monoxide poisoning in your home.
Treatment for inhalation exposures
- Ventilate the area. Open the windows and turn on the fan.
- Leave the area and get fresh air. Fresh air may resolve many uncomfortable symptoms.
- Treat the symptoms that are not alleviated by the fresh air:
- Irritated eyes — irrigate the eyes with water for 15-20 minutes. If symptoms persist call your doctor.
- Throat irritation — drink cool fluids such as ice water or milk.
- Coughing, chest congestion — run hot water in a bathroom (with the door closed) and inhale the steam. This procedure may be repeated as needed. Afterward, you can use a humidifier or vaporizer for continuous inhalation of moist air.
- Nausea — sip a carbonated beverage.
- Headache — take an analgesic, such as aspirin or acetaminophen.
Prevention of inhalation exposures
- Always use household chemicals in a well-ventilated area.
- Read warning labels on products before use.
- Avoid mixing products.
- Discontinue use at the first sign of discomfort.
- Have gas, oil or kerosene heaters cleaned and serviced yearly. Follow instructions for any type of heating appliance.
- Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home.
For details about specific poisons that can be inhaled, see household cleaners and carbon monoxide and freon gas.
Reviewed by: The Poison Control Center
Date: October 2013