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Quick Facts

Hydrocarbon Poisoning

By The Manual's Editorial Staff,

Hydrocarbons are chemicals in glues, gasoline, paint and paint thinners, and kerosene.

What is hydrocarbon poisoning?

Hydrocarbon poisoning is sickness from swallowing or breathing in fumes from hydrocarbon products.

  • Most small children who swallow these products and are poisoned will recover

  • Teens and adults who breathe in fumes to get high (known as huffing, bagging, or sniffing) can die of cardiac arrest (when their heart stops beating) or have brain damage

  • Swallowing hydrocarbons can lead to irritation and then infection of the lungs

  • Severe poisoning affects your brain, heart, bone marrow, and kidneys

If you think you or someone else may have been poisoned, call for emergency medical assistance (911 in most areas of the United States) right away.

What are the symptoms of hydrocarbon poisoning?

  • Coughing

  • Choking

  • Fast breathing

  • A burning feeling in the stomach

  • Blue skin (due to low oxygen levels in the blood)

  • Sleepiness

  • Trouble breathing—it can take several hours for this to happen

  • Poor coordination (clumsiness)

  • Seizures (when your body moves or jerks out of your control)

  • Coma (when you’re unconscious and can’t be woken up)

How can doctors tell if I have hydrocarbon poisoning?

Doctors will suspect hydrocarbon poisoning based on your symptoms and a description of what happened. They may smell hydrocarbons or see marks from paint or oil on your body or clothes.

Doctors will:

  • Do a chest x-ray to check for fluid in your lungs

  • Measure the oxygen level in your blood

  • Do an MRI if they need to check for brain damage

How do doctors treat hydrocarbon poisoning?

Doctors will:

  • Have you take off any clothes that touched the hydrocarbon

  • Wash your skin well

  • Give you oxygen or, if severe, a ventilator if you have breathing problems

  • Care for you in the hospital until you recover

  • Give you medicine to prevent infection