Overview on refrigerant poisoning

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Refrigerant poisoning occurs when an individual has been exposed to chemicals that are utilized to cool appliances. It is important to note that refrigerants contain chemicals known as fluorinated hydrocarbons or commonly branded as Freon which is a tasteless, odorless gas. Once deeply inhaled, it can disrupt the supply of oxygen to the lungs and cells.

As for limited exposure such as inhaling close an exposed vessel or a spill on the skin, it is minimally harmful. Nevertheless, it is vital to avoid all potential exposure with these types of chemicals. Remember that even small traces can trigger the symptoms.

The inhalation of these fumes on purpose to “become high” is dangerous. It can be deadly even if done for the first time. Regular inhalation of high amounts of Freon can lead to issues such as the following:

  • Build-up of fluid in the lungs
  • Breathing issues
  • Organ damage
  • Sudden death

Once refrigerant poisoning is suspected, call for emergency assistance or poison control right away.

Indications of refrigerant poisoning

Minor exposure to refrigerants is relatively harmless. In most cases, poisoning is uncommon except in cases of abuse or exposure to a confined area. The symptoms of mild to moderate refrigerant poisoning includes the following:

  • Headache
  • Irritation of the ears, eyes and throat
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Cough
    Refrigerant poisoning
    Labored or difficulty in breathing
  • Frostbite (exposure to liquid Freon)
  • Dizziness
  • Chemical burns on the skin

Indications of severe refrigerant poisoning

  • Build-up of fluid or bleeding in the lungs
  • Vomiting up blood
  • Burning sensation in the esophagus
  • Seizures
  • Erratic heartbeat
  • Diminished mental status
  • Labored or difficulty in breathing
  • Loss of consciousness


If an individual is suspected of refrigerant poisoning, you have to rapidly transfer the individual to an area with fresh air to prevent further issues from prolonged exposure. Once the individual has been transferred, call for emergency assistance.

This type of poisoning is managed in the emergency department. The doctor will monitor the heart rate, breathing, pulse and the blood pressure. Some of the measures to manage the internal and external injuries include the following:

  • Administration of oxygen via a breathing tube
  • Medications to manage the symptoms
  • Gastric lavage which involves the insertion of a tube into the stomach to cleanse and empty the contents
  • Surgical removal of the damaged or burned skin


The recovery depends on how rapid medical help was sought. The inhalation of refrigerant chemicals can lead to significant brain and lung damage. The effects tend to vary from one individual to another. Remember that the harm is not alterable even after the individual has ceased to use the inhalants. Always bear in mind that sudden death might occur with refrigerant misuse, even if it was used for the first time.

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