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Inhalant Abuse: Growing Problem Often Starts With Very Young


What are your kids doing with this stuff? Sometimes they sniff or inhale it directly from the container. Or they may spray the stuff into a bag or an empty soft drink can and breathe it in. Or they may spray or pour the substance onto a cloth or piece of clothing and inhale deeply. And nitrous oxide can be inhaled straight from a balloon.

Among the household items used: cooking spray, typewriter correction fluid, disinfectants, fabric protectors, furniture polish, oven cleaners, spray deodorants, hair spray, nail polish remover, butane, gasoline, glues and adhesives, rust removers, and spray paints.

"They are cheap, easy to get, and easy to hide," says the AAP. "For a few dollars, a can of butane offers a quick high. Or a child can sit in class and secretly sniff correction fluid. Because inhalants are legal, kids can easily make excuses if they are caught with them. Another appeal ... is the social part of using them ... most inhalant abuse is thought to be done with friends."

How can you recognize inhalant abuse in your child? Short-term effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting, loss of balance, dizziness, slurred and slow speech, mood changes, and hallucinations. Over time, inhalants can cause more serious damage such as loss of concentration, short-term memory loss, hearing loss, muscle spasms, permanent brain damage, and even death.

Other warning signs: Unusual chemical breath odors, watery eyes, dazed or dizzy appearance, paint on the face and fingers, red or runny nose, spots or sores around the mouth, loss of appetite, anxiety, excitability, and irritability

Death likely occurs when a child gets panicky while inhaling, Earl Siegel, PharmD, director of the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Drug and Poison Information Center, tells WebMD. "We think the people who die from inhalants are those who get very scared, who take off running, maybe have some kind of trauma." The excitement triggers the body to release adrenalin, which can cause the heart to beat irregularly, he explains. "They're then getting no oxygen to the brain. They die in minutes. Even if there is life support next door, they won't make it to the emergency room."

Kids who have asthma could be especially at risk, he says. "They panic because they are having trouble breathing," then their heart can begin beating irregularly. "That's a one-two punch," he adds.

According to the Texas Commission on Drugs and Alcohol, inhalant deaths can also occur from asphyxia -- solvent gases cause the person to stop breathing from lack of oxygen. Users can also choke to death from their own vomit or suffocate, more common in those who inhale from plastic bags. There's also a risk of suicide -- coming down from a high causes some to feel depressed.

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