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Chemical Pneumonitis


What is chemical pneumonitis?

Chemical pneumonitis is inflammation in your lungs. It can happen after breathing in harmful chemicals, dusts, or fumes. Pneumonitis may become a long-term condition if it is not treated, or if you are exposed to chemicals over a long period of time. Chemical pneumonitis may cause problems that range from mild to severe, and may become life-threatening.

What causes chemical pneumonitis?

  • Household cleaners, especially if you combine products that contain bleach and chlorine
  • Fertilizers or pesticides
  • Pool chemicals
  • Dust from grains
  • Smoke from fires

What are the signs and symptoms of chemical pneumonitis?

Your signs and symptoms may depend on what you were exposed to and how much. They may also depend on how long you were exposed. You may have any of the following:

  • Cough or trouble breathing
  • Runny nose, watery eyes, or sore throat
  • Pain, tightness, or a burning feeling in your throat or chest
  • Sudden headache, dizziness, trouble thinking clearly, or feeling faint
  • Dusky or blue lips or fingernails
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Fever and muscle aches
  • Frequent colds or lung infections

How is chemical pneumonitis diagnosed?

Your caregiver will ask if you know what you were exposed to. If you know, bring the label or write down information from the label and bring it with you. You may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests will show if you have an infection, and how well your lungs are working. They may also be used to get information about your overall health.
  • A chest x-ray will show if you have fluid or an infection in your lungs.
  • Lung function tests are done to show caregivers how well your lungs are working.

How is chemical pneumonitis treated?

Depending on how severe your symptoms are, you may need any of the following:

  • Medicines decrease coughing and inflammation, open airways, and make it easier for you to breathe. Medicines may be inhaled, taken as a pill, or injected.
  • Oxygen may be given if the level of oxygen in your blood gets too low.

How can I manage chemical pneumonitis?

  • Deep breathing and coughing will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can. Let the air out and then cough strongly. Deep breaths help open your airway. You may be given an incentive spirometer to help you take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your mouth, take a slow, deep breath, and then let the air out and cough. Repeat these steps 10 times every hour.
  • Avoid smoke, dust, and fumes. These may irritate your lungs and make your symptoms worse.
  • Drink plenty of liquids. Ask your caregiver how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and better able to get rid of germs and other irritants.
  • Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.
  • Do not drink alcohol when you are sick. Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.
  • Do not smoke and avoid secondhand smoke. If you smoke, it is never too late to quit. Smoking increases your risk of lung infections and long-term breathing problems. Ask your caregiver for information if you need help quitting.

When should I contact my caregiver?

  • You have a fever.
  • Your chest pain or breathing problems do not go away or get worse.
  • Your cough does not get better with treatment.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You vomit or have diarrhea.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care or call 911?

  • You have trouble breathing.
  • You faint, feel like fainting, or cannot think clearly.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue or gray.
  • Your lips, tongue, or throat swell and you have trouble breathing or swallowing.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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