What is hydrocarbon poisoning?

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Hydrocarbon poisoning can occur from inhalation or ingestion. When it comes to ingestion, it is quite common among children below 5 years old that can result to aspiration pneumonitis. As for inhalation, it is likely to occur among adolescents and can result to ventricular fibrillation usually without any warning symptoms.

What are the signs and symptoms?

After an individual ingests even a small amount of liquid hydrocarbon, he/she will initially cough, choke and might vomit. Among young children, they might have cyanosis, hold their breath and even cough persistently. The older children and adults might even experience a burning sensation in the stomach.

Take note that aspiration pneumonitis can lead to hypoxia and respiratory distress. The indications of pneumonitis usually develop in a few hours before the infiltrates become visible in the X-ray results. Once significant bodily absorption takes place especially with halogenated hydrocarbon, it can lead to seizures, lethargy and even coma.

In some cases, arrhythmias typically occur before and not likely to occur unless the individual experiences excessive agitation.

How hydrocarbon poisoning is diagnosed

Hydrocarbon poisoning
Once significant bodily absorption takes place especially with halogenated hydrocarbon, it can lead to seizures, lethargy and even coma.

A chest X-ray and oximetry are carried out at around 6 hours after the ingestion of the substances. If the individual could not provide a history, exposure to hydrocarbon is suspected if their breath or clothing has an odor or if a container is found close to the individual. If there is paint residue on the hands or around the mouth, it might indicate recent paint sniffing.

A diagnosis of aspiration pneumonitis is made based on the symptoms as well as a chest X-ray and oximetry that are performed about 6 hours after the ingestion or sooner if the symptoms are severe. In case respiratory failure is possible, the ABG is measured.


Remember that hydrocarbon poisoning is managed with supportive care and avoiding gastric emptying. Any contaminated clothing should be removed and the skin should be thoroughly washed.

Those who do not have aspiration pneumonitis or other symptoms after 4-6 hours are usually discharged. As for those who have symptoms, they are hospitalized to be treated supportively.

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