Chemical pneumonitis

Definition

Chemical pneumonitis is inflammation of the lungs or breathing difficulty due to inhaling chemical fumes or breathing in and choking on certain chemicals.

Causes

Many chemicals used in the home and workplace can cause pneumonitis.

Some common dangerous inhaled substances include:

There are two types of pneumonitis:

Chronic aspiration of acid from the stomach and exposure to chemical warfare can also lead to chemical pneumonitis.

Symptoms

Acute symptoms may include:

Chronic symptoms may include:

Exams and Tests

The following tests help determine how severely the lungs are affected:

Treatment

Treatment is focused on reversing the cause of inflammation and reducing symptoms. Corticosteroids may be given to reduce inflammation, often before long-term scarring occurs.

Antibiotics are usually not helpful or needed, unless there is a secondary infection. Oxygen therapy may be helpful.

In cases of swallowing and stomach problems, eating small meals in the upright position can help. In severe cases, a feeding tube in the stomach is needed.

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome depends on the chemical, the severity of exposure, and whether the problem is acute or chronic.

Possible Complications

Respiratory failure and death can occur.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if you have trouble breathing after inhaling (or possibly inhaling) any substance.

Prevention

Only use household chemicals as directed, and always in well-ventilated areas. Never mix ammonia and bleach.

Follow workplace rules for breathing masks and wear the right mask. People who work near fire should take care to limit their exposure to smoke or gases.

Be careful about giving mineral oil to anyone who might choke on it (children or the older people).

Sit up while eating and don't lie down right after eating if you have swallowing problems.

DO NOT siphon gas, kerosene, or other toxic liquid chemicals.


Review Date: 7/20/2018
Reviewed By: Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, VA New Jersey Health Care System, Clinical Assistant Professor, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

This information should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. © 1997- 2007 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.