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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Chemical Pneumonia

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When to Seek Medical Care

Should any symptoms of chemical pneumonia occur, call your doctor or the local poison control center. Any person with serious signs or symptoms should be transported immediately by ambulance to the nearest hospital's emergency department.

Chemical identification is helpful both for the poison control center and the doctor. This should not take precedence over medical care, however, especially for those with severe signs or symptoms.

Immediate evaluation in a hospital's emergency department is necessary for treating the following conditions:

  • Unconsciousness
  • Cyanosis -- A blue discoloration of the mouth or skin
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Sudden change of voice
  • Mouth or throat swelling
  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cough productive of frothy or bloody spit
  • Altered thinking and reasoning skills
  • Exposure to potentially deadly chemical
  • Vomiting and aspiration

The poison control center may suggest other conditions particular to the chemical that would need emergency care.

Exams and Tests for Chemical Pneumonia

Diagnosis and treatment for chemical pneumonia will vary depending on signs and symptoms. Frequently, the symptoms will be mild, the chemical will be well known, and the medical evaluation brief and focused.

  • Sometimes serious signs and symptoms will need life-saving procedures, such as artificial ventilation, advanced cardiac life support, or complex medical therapy. In most cases, the doctor will consult local poison control experts for advice.
  • The doctor must first make sure that hospital staff are not at risk for exposure themselves.
  • The next priority is to identify the chemical and consider the effects this chemical has on the lungs and the rest of the body.
  • A thorough history will be obtained to include the length of exposure, area of exposure, form and concentration of the chemical, other medical problems, and symptoms. In addition to close inspection of the vital signs (heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, temperature, and how much oxygen you have in your blood), the doctor will evaluate, at a minimum, the eyes, nose, throat, skin, heart, lungs, and abdomen.

Once these steps have been taken, further evaluation may vary depending on the status of the person injured, the type of chemical exposure, and other factors.

 

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