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First Aid for Ammonia Poisoning

Last updated July 9, 2017

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Ammonia Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (swallowing, breathing-in, or skin contact) of any product containing the compound.

What is Ammonia Poisoning?

  • Ammonia is a colorless gas with a pungent odor that is highly soluble in water. It is a versatile chemical that is used for foods and fertilizers, cleaning solutions, refrigeration, textile industry, and as a fuel component
  • Ammonia Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake (swallowing, breathing-in, or skin contact) of any product containing the compound
  • The condition is diagnosed based upon the clinical history, combination of signs and symptoms, and additional tests (that may include, in some cases, radiological studies and laboratory tests)

Ammonia Poisoning may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Ammonia Toxicity
  • Azane Poisoning
  • Hydrogen Nitride Poisoning
  • Nitrogen Trihydride Poisoning
  • Trihydrogen Nitride Poisoning

What are the Causes of Ammonia Poisoning?

  • Ammonia Poisoning is caused by the ingestion, inhalation, or exposure of skin to ammonia and ammonia-based products
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • Ammonia is a toxic substance that is found in a variety of cleaning solutions, fertilizers, and other industrial products 

Note: The compound can interact with other prescribed or non-prescribed medications in the body. Such interactions may enhance the therapeutic effects of other medications being taken, resulting in undesired side effects.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Ammonia Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Ammonia Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body, such as the vascular system, digestive system, respiratory system, and ENT may be affected.

The signs and symptoms of Ammonia Poisoning may include:

  • In case of inhalation of ammonia fumes, the following may be observed:
    • Coughing, wheezing
    • Chest pain that may be severe and chest tightness
    • Breathing difficulties including rapid breathing
    • Redness, watering, and burning sensation in the eyes
    • Shock
  • Loss of vision that is usually temporary
  • Severe burning and associated pain in the mouth, throat, and food-pipe (even the stomach may be burnt); the burns may be severe if exposure time is more
  • Skin irritation and burns
  • Swelling of the lips, throat
  • Bluish discoloration of lips and beneath fingernails
  • Severe abdominal or stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Feeling dizzy, lack of coordinated movement, feeling restless
  • Low level of alertness
  • Collapse

How is First Aid administered for Ammonia Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Ammonia Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Carefully remove the individual from the exposure area; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If skin exposure or involvement of the eye has occurred, then wash thoroughly with copious amounts of water (for at least 15 minutes)
  • Unless instructed by a healthcare professional, DO NOT induce vomiting in the affected individual
  • Following an ingestion of the substance, immediately give water or milk to drink, if instructed by the healthcare personnel
  • In case of symptoms that indicate difficulty in swallowing including vomiting or decreased alertness, do not give anything by way of mouth
  • Take individual to emergency room (ER) for further treatment
  • Always try to take the compound bottle/container to the ER

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Ammonia Poisoning?

First aid for Ammonia Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Ammonia Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Ammonia Poisoning is dependent on the amount of substance consumed, time between consumption and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • If the individual can recover from the symptoms within 1-2 days, with appropriate medication and early support, the outcome is generally good. Generally, cleaning fluids used at home are milder in toxicity, than those used for industrial applications
  • Severe exposure to the chemical can lead to complications and irreversible damage. If the chemical splashed into the eye, the outcomes depend on the extent of injury; permanent vision loss (in the injured eye) is a possibility

In general, toxicities are common situations in the emergency departments. A majority of the cases are often not fatal, when appropriate treatment is given.

How can Ammonia Poisoning be Prevented?

Ammonia Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Always following instructions for usage of any household products
  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Keep all poisons correctly labeled and in suitable storage locations
  • Wearing appropriate protective wear when working with such chemicals
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of consumption of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 9, 2017
Last updated: July 9, 2017