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DefinitionChemical pneumonitis is an inflammation of the lungs (pneumonitis) or breathing difficulty caused by inhalation of noxious chemicals.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Many household and industrial chemicals are capable of producing both an acute and a chronic form of inflammation in the lung. Acute chemical pneumonitis causes swelling of the lung tissue, movement of fluid into the air spaces in the lung, and less ability to absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. In severe cases, death may result from lack of oxygen reaching the tissues ( hypoxia ).
Chronic chemical pneumonitis can follow low levels of exposure to the lung irritant over extended periods of time. This causes inflammation and may provoke fibrosis (scarring) with decreased oxygen exchange and stiffening of the lung. Unchecked, this condition may ultimately lead to respiratory failure and death.
Signs and testsThe following tests help determine how severely the lungs are affected:
TreatmentTreatment is focused on reducing symptoms. Oxygen therapy may be helpful. Corticosteroids may be given to reduce inflammation.
Expectations (prognosis)The outcome depends on the chemical agent involved, the severity of exposure, and whether the problem is acute or chronic .
ComplicationsRespiratory failure and death can occur.
Calling your health care providerCall your health care provider if you have trouble breathing after inhaling (or possibly inhaling) any substance.
PreventionHousehold chemicals should be used only as directed and always in well-ventilated areas. Work rules regarding breathing masks should be followed and the appropriate breathing mask should be worn. Persons who work near fires should take care to limit exposure to smoke or gases.
Update Date: 4/22/2003David A. Kaufman, M.D., Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine, University of Pennsylvania Medical Center, Philadelphia, PA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT