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Propane poisoning

Definition

Propane is a colorless and odorless flammable gas that can turn into liquid under very cold temperatures.

This article discusses the harmful effects from breathing in or swallowing propane. Breathing in or swallowing propane can be harmful. Propane takes the place of oxygen in the lungs. This makes breathing difficult or impossible.

This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.

Symptoms

Symptoms depend on the type of contact, but may include:

Touching liquid propane results in frostbite-like symptoms.

Home Care

Seek medical help right away. If the person breathed in the poison, immediately move him or her to fresh air. If the person does not improve rapidly after moving to fresh air, call your local emergency number (such as 911).

If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.

If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless instructed otherwise by a health care provider. DO NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.

DO NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by Poison Control or a health care professional.

Before Calling Emergency

The following information is helpful for emergency assistance:

  • Person's age, weight, and condition
  • Name of the product (ingredients and strengths, if known)
  • Time it was swallowed
  • Amount swallowed

However, DO NOT delay calling for help if this information is not immediately available.

Poison Control

Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. They will give you further instructions.

This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. You can call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

What to Expect at the Emergency Room

The provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. The person may receive:

  • Airway support, including oxygen, breathing tube through the mouth (intubation), and breathing machine (ventilator)
  • Blood and urine tests
  • Chest x-ray
  • EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
  • Fluids through a vein (intravenous or IV)
  • Medicines to treat symptoms

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well a person does depends on the type of contact with the poison, and how quickly treatment was received. The faster a person gets medical help, the better.

Those with short exposures may have temporary headaches or other mild nervous system symptoms. Stroke, coma, or death may occur with long-term exposure.

References

Little M. Toxicology emergencies. In: Cameron P, Jelinek G, Kelly A-M, Brown A, Little M, eds. Textbook of Adult Emergency Medicine. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2015:chap 29.

Nelson LS, Hoffman RS. Inhaled toxins. In: Marx JA, Hockberger RS, Walls RM, et al, eds. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 159.

Review Date:1/31/2017
Reviewed By:Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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