Toxic Inhalations and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Due to the large number of plastics and synthetics used in our society, the possibility of exposure to a toxic chemical or its combustible by-product is greatly enhanced. There are too many different types of toxic inhalations to begin an adequate discussion. Therefore, several common exposures will be discussed here.

1. INSECTICIDES - This group is known as the organophosphates. They are popular chemical agents used today in many household, yard, and commercial bug killers. Toxicity is through inhalation, skin exposure, or ingestion. SYMPTOMS include shortness of breath, increased salivation, increased tearing, seizures, coma, and sweating. This is a medical EMERGENCY. The victim should be removed from the toxic environment and all skin surfaces cleansed with soapy water. Physician care is EMERGENT.

2. IRRITANTS - This very common group includes agents like bleach, chlorine, and acids. All of these agents generally (if exposure time is limited) cause relatively minor damage. The injury occurs in the lining of the nose and mouth, with superficial burns being most common. TREATMENT consists of rapid removal to fresh air. More prolonged exposures can produce asthma-like symptoms and shortness of breath. Symptomatic exposures should be evaluated promptly.

Management should be based on the specific agent, as some require special treatment.

3. CARBON MONOXIDE and SMOKE INHALATION - Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that is a the by-product resulting from the combustion of materials containing carbon, such as wood or cotton. Carbon monoxide inhalation is the major cause of death in house fires; it is also the leading cause of death by poisoning in the United States. Annually, there are more than 3,800 accidental and suicidal deaths attributable to carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is found in high concentrations in automobile exhaust. Faulty auto exhaust systems or the operation of an automobile in a closed space can result in fatality. Carbon monoxide exposure can occur through the use of improperly ventilated (or functioning) wood burning stoves, heaters, propane engines, portable generators, auto exhaust systems, and charcoal burners.

Exposure (oral, skin, or inhalation) to paint removers, containing methylene chloride, can result in the production of carbon monoxide in the blood stream as a metabolic by-product.

Carbon monoxide interferes with the oxygen carrying ability of hemoglobin. It also interferes with an important enzyme necessary for cellular function and oxygen utilization. SYMPTOMS of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, nausea, and shortness of breath on exertion. These symptoms can progresses to confusion, vomiting, seizures, coma, and eventual cardiac arrest.

TREATMENT requires immediate removal to fresh air with application of 100% oxygen by mask. More serious cases are treated with a hyperbaric chamber. This is an EMERGENCY, see a doctor IMMEDIATELY!! ANY SUSPECTED CASES REQUIRE PROMPT PHYSICIAN EVALUATION.

4. ASPHYXIANTS - This group includes biologically inert substances, like propane or methane, that simply displace available oxygen in the air. Impaired judgment is one of the first symptoms, this is reversed when the patient is returned to fresh air. Any persistent symptoms require medical evaluation.

Air quality - Air pollution is a major cause of global warming and health problems.

Hope this article will provide you information about toxic inhalations,

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