Paint Thinner Poisoning

Paint Thinner Poisoning

Paint Thinner Poisoning
Paint thinner poisoning occurs when a toxic substance, known as a hydrocarbon, is ingested by mouth or by breathing. Paint thinners, gasoline and cleaning sprays can contain these hydrocarbons. Symptoms include burning in the mouth, throat or stomach; vomiting; or diarrhea. A person with paint thinner poisoning may become short of breath, or even appear blue around the lips and extremities. Anyone suspected to have this poisoning should get emergency hospital care. Find out why children and adolescents are most commonly affected by this serious health condition -- plus ways to prevent and treat paint thinner poisoning -- with expert advice from Sharecare.

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    Paint thinner poisoning occurs when a toxic substance known as a hydrocarbon is taken into the body by mouth or by breathing. Found in such everyday products as gasoline, paint thinner, and cleaning sprays, hydrocarbons inside the body can pose a risk of great harm. Someone with severe paint thinner poisoning needs emergency hospital care, but if the hydrocarbon is determined to be nontoxic, the victim may need simply to be watched closely at home. Children and adolescents are most commonly affected.

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    The symptoms of paint thinner poisoning can vary according to the type of toxic hydrocarbon that enters the body. The amount and the route of entry also influence the type and severity of symptoms. Problems in the digestive tract may include a burning in the mouth, throat, or stomach; vomiting; or diarrhea. The victim may develop a persistent cough, become short of breath, or even appear blue around the lips and extremities. Someone who has absorbed a large amount of a certain type of hydrocarbon could be hard to arouse, lose consciousness, or have seizures.

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    The airways and lungs are especially vulnerable to paint thinner poisoning. An inhaled hydrocarbon can be distributed in the lungs and cause inflammation to the lung tissue ranging from mild to very severe. Other problems that may develop if large amounts are absorbed include irregular heart rhythms, liver or kidney damage, and nervous system disorders. Long-term inhalation of hydrocarbons such as from habitual glue sniffing, may lead to anemia or leukemia.

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    Exposure to substances that contain hydrocarbons poses a risk of paint thinner poisoning. Inhalation is especially dangerous because hydrocarbons can cause considerable damage to the lungs or other major organs. Failure to store hydrocarbon-containing solutions such as paint thinner or kerosene out of reach could increase a child's risk of drinking and inhaling the solution. Recreational sniffing of such substances as glue or gasoline is a risky behavior associated with teenagers. In adults, siphoning gasoline poses a risk.

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    The diagnosis of paint thinner poisoning is based on a history of exposure to a hydrocarbon, symptoms of lung problems, and certain abnormal test results. Even if the victim is too ill to speak, hydrocarbon exposure may be suspected if a chemical odor or paint residue is noted or a suspicious container is nearby. The victim may develop respiratory symptoms, and they may continue to worsen for days after exposure to the hydrocarbon. A chest x-ray performed hours after the exposure may show signs of lung damage. Oximetry, a noninvasive test to measure oxygenation in the blood, may also be used to assess for damage to the lungs.

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    If you suspect that a child or anyone else has consumed or inhaled a hydrocarbon, call 1-800-222-1222 right away, even if the person does not have symptoms. This number will connect you to the nearest poison center at any time, day or night. A specially trained person there will ask questions and explain what you should do. If the container of the suspected substance is labeled, have it nearby because the information will help the expert determine what to do, including whether to administer first aid.

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    If the type of hydrocarbon is not likely to cause damage throughout the body, emptying the victim's stomach is avoided to prevent the risk of inhaling the hydrocarbon. A victim who does not develop symptoms within about 6 hours will probably be allowed to go home. A victim who does develop symptoms is typically admitted to the hospital for further testing and treatments are aimed at resolving the specific symptoms.

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    Medications may be used cautiously to manage paint thinner poisoning or its complications. Although forcing someone who has swallowed a hydrocarbon to vomit usually isn't advised, emptying the stomach may be necessary to prevent absorption of a hydrocarbon that's likely to harm multiple organs. A medication that's used to trigger vomiting is called syrup of ipecac.

    An example of a complication of paint thinner poisoning that requires medication therapy is a development of seizures in a teenager who habitually sniffs glue. In this case, the teen may receive a muscle-relaxing drug to control the seizures.

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    Several non-medication treatments may be used to manage respiratory problems in someone with paint thinner poisoning. They include oxygen therapy and certain types of inhalation therapy that maintain a constant level of pressure in the airway. For someone with severe lung damage, a breathing tube may be inserted.

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    Paint thinner poisoning can be prevented in several ways. One way is to use caution. Store solutions such as household cleaners, kerosene, and paint where children can't get to them. When using these products, make sure that ventilation is adequate so you don't inhale the fumes. If you get some on your skin, wipe it off and wash the area.

    The other way to prevent paint thinner poisoning is to talk with children and teenagers about the risks of drinking dangerous substances or inhaling toxic fumes. If your youngster acts irritable or shows other unusual physical or behavioral signs, investigate further to determine if they're sniffing glue or another toxic substance.