Poison Prevention

When Sniffing Has Deadly Consequences

Kids call it “huffing,” “sniffing” and “bagging,” and it’s not a harmless childhood game. In fact, it’s inhalant abuse, and it’s dangerous and deadly.

Image via Wikimedia

Inhalant abuse is the deliberate breathing of a fume or gas for an immediate, intense and usually brief “high.” Children as young as 10 try inhalants, and abuse peaks among children ages 13 to 15. Unfortunately, it’s an all-too-common practice – nearly one of every seven eighth-graders has tried inhalants.

The products children inhale to get high can be found all around the house: adhesives, nail polish remover, butane lighters, aerosol deodorant, gasoline, spray paints, air conditioner refrigerants, air duster, permanent markers and many more. These products are cheap and easy to get, and many adults don’t realize their danger.

Just how dangerous are they? A child who has abused inhalants may seem drunk, with symptoms like confusion, slurred speech, lack of coordination and passing out. Inhalants can kill a child by triggering an irregular heartbeat and heart failure – even for a first-time inhaler. Plus, inhalants can permanently damage a child’s brain, bone marrow, lungs and other organs.

Experts at the nation’s 57 poison centers recommend these steps to help protect your children from inhalant abuse:

  • Education is the key to prevention. Let children know that these products are dangerous poisons that cause harm if used incorrectly.
  • Be a good role model in the safe use of chemical products. Always read and follow label instructions, ventilate properly and store them safely.
  • Be on the alert for signs of inhalant abuse. Some important clues include chemical odors on breath or clothes, paint or other stains on skin or clothing, lots of empty product containers, smelly rags or bags, and frequently red or runny eyes or nose.
  • Get help if you think a child may be using inhalants. Call your poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for immediate, expert treatment advice.

— Contributed by Evelyn Waring, CSPI and educator, Virginia Poison Center

The American Association of Poison Control Centers supports the nation’s 57 poison centers in their efforts to prevent and treat poison exposures. Poison centers offer free, private, expert medical advice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We take calls in more than 150 languages and from the hearing impaired.

For questions about poison or if you think someone has been exposed to a poison, call 1-800-222-1222 to reach your local poison center.

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