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Choking Agent Poisoning

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Oct 31, 2022.

What is choking agent poisoning?

Choking agent poisoning happens when you are exposed to a harmful chemical, such as phosgene or chlorine. Phosgene is used to make dyes, plastics, and pesticides. Chlorine is used to keep swimming pool water clean. You may accidently be exposed during a fire or chemical spill. It may also be used as a weapon. Choking agents may cause severe symptoms and be life-threatening.

What are the symptoms of choking agent poisoning?

Signs and symptoms may occur immediately or up to 48 hours after exposure:

  • Burning or teary eyes
  • Burning feeling in your nose or throat, or on your skin
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Coughing or wheezing
  • A heart rate that is faster than normal for you
  • Coughing up bloody phlegm
  • Painful breathing or shortness of breath

What should I do if I am exposed to a choking agent?

  • Move to a higher area: Climb to the top floor of a building, or go to the top of a hill. Phosgene is heavier than air and will settle in low-lying areas, such as ditches and basements. Turn off the heat or air conditioning to prevent the choking agent from circulating in the building.
  • Remove your clothing: Remove clothes that have the choking agent on them. Do not pull clothing over your head. Cut it or rip it off to prevent getting choking agent in your eyes, nose, or breathing it in. Remove contact lenses. Place all contaminated clothing and contact lenses in a plastic bag and seal it. Ask your healthcare provider if and how you should dispose of the bag.
  • Wash your entire body: Take a shower as soon as possible. Use soap and water or cleaning solutions provided by healthcare providers. Wash your hair. Gently wash your skin. Do not scrub, because this may cause more nerve gas to be absorbed into your skin. If the chemical got into your eyes, run water into your eyes for 10 to 15 minutes. Put on clean clothes and shoes. Wash your eyeglasses before you use them again.
  • Do not induce vomiting: If you swallowed a choking agent, do not make yourself vomit. Do not drink more liquids.

What can I do to prevent choking agent poisoning?

  • Learn the correct way to store and handle chemicals such as phosgene or chlorine.
  • Do not breathe in fumes from anything that is burning. Phosgene may be given off when some substances burn. Examples are paint removers, home and office furnishings, and electrical insulation. Teflon also gives off phosphene when it gets too hot.
  • Wear proper work equipment, such as a welding mask. Phosgene may be given off during welding.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You think you have been exposed to a choking agent.

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Further information

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