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First Aid for Refrigerant Poisoning

Last updated March 4, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

A refrigerant is chemical substance used in the field of refrigeration and air-cooling. It acts as a medium of cooling. Refrigerant Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake of any product containing the compound.

What is Refrigerant Poisoning?

  • A refrigerant is chemical substance used in the field of refrigeration and air-cooling. It acts as a medium of cooling
  • Refrigerant Poisoning is the accidental or intentional intake 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)

Refrigerant Overdose may be also referred to variously as the following:

  • Coolant Poisoning
  • Fluorinated Hydrocarbon Poisoning
  • Freon Poisoning
  • Refrigerant Toxicity
  • Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome

What are the Causes of Refrigerant Poisoning?

  • Refrigerant Poisoning is caused by the ingestion or inhalation of a refrigerant
  • This intake could be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm
  • There are several types of refrigerants including ammonia, carbon-dioxide, halocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons, etc. Fluorinated hydrocarbons and many other compounds contained in refrigerants are known to be very toxic

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 Refrigerant Poisoning?

The signs and symptoms of Refrigerant Poisoning can vary from one individual to another. It may be mild in some and severe in others. Several systems of the body may be affected. The poisoning may occur due to swallowing the compound or breathing-in of refrigerant fumes and vapors.

The signs and symptoms of Refrigerant Poisoning may include:

  • Burning and pain in the throat and food-pipe; it may also involve the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth (lips, tongue)
  • Swelling of the mouth and tongue; unable to speak clearly
  • Severe burns may cause necrosis of the underlying tissue
  • Choking sensation from inhaling the fumes
  • Vision abnormalities and vision loss
  • Severe pain in the stomach and abdomen
  • Nausea, vomiting (blood in vomit)
  • Blood in stool
  • Increased heart-rate and heart rhythms
  • Collapse

How is First Aid administered for Refrigerant Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Refrigerant 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
  • 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)
  • 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:

  • Gastric lavage for elimination of the substance from the stomach (irrigation using special solutions)
  • Medically manage symptoms, such as abnormal heart rate and seizures
  • Provide breathing support, if necessary
  • Wash skin and eyes repeatedly and thoroughly (irrigation), to eliminate any remaining hazardous compound
  • Administer suitable medication to counter the effects of the substance
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line
  • Surgical treatment for skin burns including removal of burnt skin

Who should administer First Aid for Refrigerant Poisoning?

First aid for Refrigerant 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 Refrigerant Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Refrigerant 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
  • Severity of the poisoning and timely medical assistance are the key prognostic indicators. Generally, if the individual can recover within 3 days, the prognosis may be good
  • In case of severe poisoning, there is a chance of lung damage that may be severe. Damage to the brain may become irreversible, if timely oxygen therapy is not administered
  • Some refringent compounds (including Freon) have the potential to cause sudden deaths

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 Refrigerant Poisoning be Prevented?

Refrigerant Poisoning can be prevented by:

  • Keeping any poisonous/hazardous chemicals and other materials out of children’s reach
  • Being aware of basic first aid steps in case of an emergency (such as inadvertent poisoning)
  • Wearing personal protective equipment (PPE) is useful in protecting the lungs, eyes, mucous membranes, and skin
  • While in industry, maintain a clean work area that is dust-free
  • Regularly shower and change clothes after industrial work
  • Avoid bringing home contaminated clothes from the work site
  • Avoid eating, drinking, or smoking at the work site
  • Practice proper hand hygiene by washing hands with soap frequently
  • Ensure that industrial safety regulations for refrigerant exposure is adhered to at workplaces

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: March 4, 2018