What is refrigerant poisoning?

Refrigerant poisoning occurs if an individual was exposed to chemicals used to cool appliances. It is important to note that refrigerant includes chemicals known as fluorinated hydrocarbons or Freon which is a tasteless and odorless gas. If it is inhaled deeply, it can disrupt oxygen to the lungs and cells.

In case of limited exposure to the chemical such as a spill on the skin or inhaling close to an open container, it is considered minimally harmful. Nevertheless, avoid any possible contact since even small amounts can trigger the symptoms.

Indications

Minor exposure to refrigerants is usually harmless. Remember that refrigerant poisoning is rare except in cases of abuse or exposure in confined areas.

Indications of mild to moderate refrigerant poisoning include:

refrigerant-poisoning

If an individual is suspected with refrigerant poisoning, transfer him/her to an area with fresh air to avoid further issues from prolonged exposure.

  • Headache
  • Irritation of the ears, eyes and throat
  • Cough
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Frostbite
  • Chemical burn on the skin

The indications of severe poisoning include the following:

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

Management

If an individual is suspected with refrigerant poisoning, transfer him/her to an area with fresh air to avoid further issues from prolonged exposure. Once the individual has been transferred, call for emergency assistance or poison control.

This type of poisoning is managed in a healthcare facility. The doctor will monitor the breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and pulse of the individual.

Various treatment options are used to manage internal and external injuries such as:

  • 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

Disclaimer / More Information

The information posted on this page on refrigerant poisoning is for learning and educational purposes only. To learn to recognize the indications and how it is treated, register for first aid training at one of our training centers located throughout Canada. The training centers are in Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, Kelowna, Saskatoon, Victoria, Surrey, Mississauga, Winnipeg, Red Deer, Toronto, Ottawa and Halifax.

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