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Chemical Pneumonia

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.

 

Treatment for Chemical Pneumonia

Self-Care at Home

Your decision to seek medical care depends on the severity of symptoms and other factors of exposure. If you accidentally inhale a chemical, you probably want some medical advice. You can call your local poison control center for help. If your symptoms are serious, you will want immediate treatment at a hospital.

Home care may be the most important aspect of medical management.

  • Quickly get away from the offending chemical or area of exposure. If possible, avoid exposing others to the same chemical. Once you're away from the area, consider further decontamination, such as removing your clothes and showering.
  • Alert the appropriate authorities to avoid further problems.
  • Identify and contain the chemical.
  • Medical evaluation may involve local police, fire department, emergency medical services (EMS), and hazardous materials personnel.

Medical Treatment for Chemical Pneumonia

Evaluation and treatment vary. Almost everyone will have measurements of blood pressure, oxygen level, heart rate, and respiratory rate.

In many people with chemical pneumonia, treatment is mostly observation. Sometimes symptoms develop over time and the amount of damage done won't be totally known for several hours.

Many treatments are possible, including the following:

  • IV fluids
  • Oxygen by mask or tube
  • Breathing treatment with medicine to open breathing tubes
  • Steroid medications by IV or mouth
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by mouth
  • Pain medications by IV or mouth
  • Artificial ventilation (help breathing)
  • Preventive antibiotics (sometimes)

 

Next Steps -- Outlook

Prognosis depends on the chemical exposure and person's medical condition. For example, an elderly person with lung disease exposed to moderate amounts of vaporized ammonium chloride might suffer serious problems as compared to a young athlete with no lung problems. In general, the more severe the symptoms, the more likely you will suffer short- and long-term complications.

  • Short-term complications include other organ injury in addition to possible death.
  • Long-term complications include lung scarring and recurrent pneumonia.
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WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

Reviewed by Sandra Adamson Fryhofer, MD on October 30, 2013

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