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What Causes Refrigerant Poisoning and What To Do About It?

About Refrigerant Poisoning

Refrigerant Poisoning which commonly is known as Freon Poisoning is the term used when an individual inhales chemical that is used in cooling appliances like refrigerator, air conditioner, or freezers. The chemical term for these coolants is fluorinated hydrocarbon or Freon. It is an extremely dangerous chemical which does not have any taste or smell. Excessive inhalation of this chemical can cause variety of health issues and may even pose a threat to the life of an individual. This is because these coolants or refrigerants cut off the oxygen supply to the body[2].

Accidental exposure to refrigerants should be reported to the emergency department immediately for treatment. Studies however do not confirm any long term effect of exposure to the chemical. This is the reason why refrigerants are used extensively in many industries[1].

As an example, here is a case study where three people were exposed to Freon gas accidentally. The age ranges of these patients were from 20 to 34 years. These people accidentally inhaled Freon when it leaked from the air conditioning system. They were exposed to the gas for approximately 10 minutes and were admitted to the emergency room about 30 minutes later[1].

Out of the three, two patients lost consciousness for about 10 minutes while 1 went into coma for about three hours. The two patients after regaining consciousness complained mild headache and haziness with difficulty opening their mouth, and a complete loss of sensation[1].

However, they recovered everything back within a span of a couple of hours. The third patient however remained in coma for three hours and had to be administered medications; however, even that patient was given a clean bill of health within a few hours after regaining consciousness. This article gives an idea about the potential causes of refrigerant poisoning and what can be done about it[1].

What Causes Refrigerant Poisoning and What To Do About It?

What Causes Refrigerant Poisoning?

Some people use refrigerant to get high. This is because they are easily obtained and are easy on the pockets. A rag or a plastic bag may be soaked in a refrigerant and inhaled to get high. Freon is the most common inhalant used by teenagers and adolescents to get high. Since their effect is extremely short lived youngsters tend to inhale three to four fumes together to get that extra feeling of being high. This is what may cause refrigerant poisoning in youngsters and adolescents[2].

Accidental exposure is yet another cause of refrigerant poisoning as mentioned in the case study above. Accidental exposure is quite common in people who work in a coolant factory or chemical plants. People who repair air conditioners and refrigerators also may end up having refrigerant poisoning. Refrigerant poisoning from a leaking home appliance is extremely unlikely especially in a well-ventilated environment[2].

What Can Be Done About Refrigerant Poisoning?

It is extremely important for an individual with refrigerant poisoning to be taken to the emergency room immediately. At the same time, it is important to move the patient to a well-ventilated area or outside where he can breathe in fresh air by the time the emergency service arrives[2].

While in the emergency room, the patient’s pulse, respiratory rate, and blood pressure will be monitored closely. The physician will look for any internal or external damage due to refrigerant poisoning. In case of an internal damage, medications will be given to treat those. The patient will also be given oxygen continuously to aid in breathing [2].

If there is any skin burns visible then that will be removed by the emergency room physician. If the refrigerant enters the body in a liquid form then that will be removed from the stomach[2].

As of now, there is no direct medication to treat refrigerant poisoning although research is still ongoing for such. Additionally, there is no way to diagnose the condition except for symptoms and any history that may be given by the relatives or friends of the patient[2].

In conclusion, refrigerant poisoning is quite a serious medical condition caused due to inhalation of refrigerants used in cooling appliances like refrigerator, air conditioners, and freezers. In majority of the cases, people inhale refrigerants to get high. This is seen mainly in adolescents and young adults[2].

There are also cases of accidental exposure to refrigerants. In all cases, it is a must to take the individual to the emergency room for treatment and prevent any unwarranted complications and potential threat to the life of the individual[2].


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Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:August 2, 2021

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