Hydrocarbon Inhalation Injury Treatment & Management

Updated: Mar 29, 2017
  • Author: Rakesh Vadde, MBBS; Chief Editor: Denise Serebrisky, MD  more...
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Medical Care

The care of patients with inhalation abuse is mainly supportive. Because many potential complications involving the pulmonary, cardiovascular, and neurologic systems may be present, careful assessment and stabilization of the ABCs should be paramount in the initial management. In addition to acute medical treatment, patients suspected of chronic solvent-inhalant use should be carefully evaluated by a team trained in the treatment of childhood substance abuse.

Acute inhalant abuse

Medical care of patients following acute decompensation from hydrocarbon inhalation is primarily supportive. Those with significant neurologic impairment who are unable to protect their airway should undergo endotracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation to prevent aspiration and respiratory deterioration. Hypoxic injury to other organ systems, particularly the heart, should be sought and treated.

Because of the sensitization of the myocardium to catecholamines, inotropic agents and bronchodilators should be avoided. Some authors suggest the use of amiodarone to treat ventricular arrhythmias if used early in treatment. Epinephrine administration during resuscitation may be harmful and can lead to recurrence of ventricular fibrillation.

Electrolyte abnormalities should be corrected.

Chronic inhalant abuse

Management of chronic solvent-inhalant abuse should be directed at preventing further abuse.

Therapy for commonly involved organs, including the central and peripheral nervous systems, kidneys, liver, lungs, heart, and bone marrow, is primarily supportive.

In patients with significant electrolyte abnormalities, typically due to distal renal tubular acidosis, parenteral fluid and electrolyte repletion may be necessary. Correction of potassium and phosphorus deficiency may result in rapid improvement in muscle strength. Hypocalcemia is frequently encountered during fluid and electrolyte repletion.

Apneic aversion and covert sensitization have been used as a treatment of hydrocarbon inhalation addiction. [40]



Patients who are suspected of solvent-inhalant abuse should be carefully evaluated by experts who are trained in the treatment of childhood substance abuse. Consultation with specialists, including cardiologists and neurologists, may also be warranted, depending on the individual needs of the patient. Any patient who has unstable hemodynamics or cardiac arrhythmias or who has significantly altered mental status should be admitted to and observed in the pediatric intensive care unit.



Patients should remain on a diet of nothing by mouth (NPO) until muscle weakness clearly will not necessitate institution of mechanical ventilation. Also, because of the risk of hypocalcemic seizures, patients should remain NPO during initial fluid and electrolyte repletion.