Chemical Exposure/Inhalation Risks and Symptoms
There are man-made and naturally-occurring chemicals everywhere in the environment. Most of these chemicals are harmless, but certain chemicals can pose a threat to human health and may result in permanent medical conditions or even death.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) keeps track of injuries and fatalities related to chemical exposure. Many of 2019’s cases of chemical exposure involved dangerous chemicals, such as arsenic, lead, ammonia, asbestos, or cadmium. These types of chemicals can cause severe and lasting harm and are commonly cited in chemical exposure lawsuits on behalf of those affected.
The National Poison Control Center reports that in 2018, their representatives provided telephone guidance and assistance to almost 2.1 million people who were exposed to chemicals. Review the information below to learn how to identify the symptoms and risks associated with chemical exposure.
How Does Chemical Exposure Happen?
Since chemicals are all around us, chemical exposure can happen anywhere. It becomes dangerous when an unsafe chemical enters the environment or a person is exposed to a relatively safe chemical at an excessive or unsafe level.
Chemical exposure in the workplace is common because there are oftentimes dangerous chemicals in the supplies workers use on a daily basis. Solvents, cleaning solutions, fuels, and paints contain chemicals that can cause injury.
If harmful chemicals become airborne and are inhaled through the lungs, they may cause painful side effects. Chemicals may also be present in water due to environmental pollution and, once they’re ingested, they can cause harm to the digestive system and other areas in the body. Chemicals in the soil can also affect the water and food supply and chemicals in food can cause illness or even wrongful death.
What Are the Symptoms of Chemical Exposure?
Chemical exposure can cause different symptoms depending on the chemical a person was exposed to and the severity of the exposure. In some cases, a person may not exhibit any signs of chemical exposure while others may display severe side effects. It is important to understand common types of chemical exposure and the associated symptoms to determine whether you have a personal injury claim due to toxic exposure.
Headaches, Dizziness, and Disorientation
When a person breathes in a chemical that’s irritating, it’s likely they’ll develop a headache from this exposure. A chemical exposure headache is common when a person is exposed to solvents, such as mineral spirits, without proper ventilation.
Dizziness or disorientation may also occur due to chemical exposure. While waiting for medical treatment, a person suffering from headache, dizziness, or disorientation should sit down close to the ground to avoid a fall. It’s also important to relax and stay calm while waiting for medical intervention.
Cough or Sinus Issues
When harmful chemicals are present in the air and inhaled, they’re likely to cause a cough or sinus issues. Dangerous chemicals or high levels of chemicals that are airborne may cause the nose or throat to feel dry, itchy, and irritated.
If a person is experiencing a cough or sinus issues after exposure to chemicals, they may need to drink water and sit down while waiting for medical personnel. It’s important that the person immediately leaves the area to prevent additional chemical exposure and worsening symptoms.
When a dangerous chemical touches your skin, the area may turn white or red and cause a painful personal injury that needs treatment. It could be itchy or a rash may appear. Depending on the chemical you were exposed to, your skin could also blister or swell.
One way to determine if you’ve experienced a chemical exposure or burn on the skin as opposed to simple skin irritation is the location of the blemish. Your skin will only be red or swollen in the area where the substance touched you.
Don’t touch or scratch the area and wait for medical personnel to treat it properly.
When you’re exposed to airborne chemicals or a chemical physically splashes into your eye, it may cause discomfort, pain, redness, or tearing. While you wait for medical treatment for your eye irritation, be sure to mitigate additional exposure by leaving the area.
Try washing the eyes out with clean and fresh water. However, don’t touch or rub your eyes, especially with unsanitary hands, because you could cause additional irritation.
Chemical Tastes or Odors
If you’ve been exposed to a chemical, it’s possible you may continue smelling or tasting the chemical long after exposure. A chemical odor or taste may persist because the chemical is still present in the air or in your body in some way.
For example, formaldehyde is a chemical commonly used in man-made materials, such as carpet, countertops, or kitchen cabinetry. It can remain in the air for a long time, causing chemical odors to linger.
Aftertastes from foods with chemicals may also linger. For example, drinking a wine that’s high in iron may cause a more prominent aftertaste with food, such as fish.
Chemical Exposure Treatment
If you or someone you’re with has been exposed to chemicals, it’s important to take action immediately. To treat chemical exposure, follow these steps:
- Identify the symptoms: Figure out what symptoms are related to the situation, such as difficulty breathing, coughing, a skin rash, or burning eyes. Identifying the symptoms will help you decide how to proceed.
- Find the source of exposure: Locate the chemical that’s causing these harmful effects and stop the exposure. If the chemical can be contained, seal it in an airtight container. If not, move locations to get away from additional exposure.
- Request medical treatment: If you’re in the U.S. and suspect chemical exposure, call the National Capital Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222. A position control expert will give you advice on how to mitigate the exposure and where to seek medical treatment.
- Contact your healthcare provider: If you have symptoms that persist, you didn’t seek treatment at the time of exposure, or you feel you need additional treatment, contact your healthcare provider. You may need a prescription for an antibiotic to prevent infection or pain medication so you’re more comfortable as you heal.
If you were exposed to chemicals through no fault of your own, you may need a reputable injury attorney to help you pursue legal action. If chemical exposure could have been prevented by a business owner, a premises liability attorney may be able to help you seek compensation for your medical expenses. When other injuries are involved, such as birth injuries due to chemical exposure, an experienced lawyer can help you seek damages.
Chemicals are everywhere and chemical exposure may cause unrelenting and painful side effects. It’s important to understand the symptoms of chemical exposure and how to treat them to prevent further harm.