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Although ammonia is a chemical that occurs naturally in the environment and within our own bodies, it is possible to experience ammonia poisoning, particularly if a person is exposed to concentrated amounts of ammonia. For example, ammonia is found in products such as fertilizers, smelling salts, cleaning products, and in the manufacture of dyes, plastics, and fabrics. Symptoms of ammonia poisoning can be wide ranging and, if left untreated, can result in death. The chest and lungs are primarily affected, as are the throat, mouth, ears, and eyes. In some cases, the poisoned individual may have changes in her pulse, experience restlessness, or may fall unconscious, and some people experience abdominal pain, vomiting, and chemical burns as well.
If inhaled or ingested, ammonia will affect the chest and lungs. A person may experience burning and severe tightness in the chest, which can lead to wheezing and problems breathing. Coughing may occur when the concentrations of ammonia are lower when it is inhaled or ingested. This form of poisoning causes severe damage to the lungs because it breaks down lung tissue, prevents the formation of protective mucus, and destroys the cilia that line the lungs.
The throat, mouth, nose, ears, and eyes can be affected by ammonia poisoning as well. Often, the individual will experience burning and severe tearing in the eyes. If left untreated, the lens and cornea can be damaged, causing blindness. In addition, the person may experience burning and swelling in the mouth, throat, and lips. The main cause of the burning is a chemical burn caused by the ammonia.
A hidden symptom of ammonia poisoning includes problems with the heart. Many people experience an increase or decrease in their pulse rates. This sudden raise or drop is often severe and can lead to shock in some cases.
One of the more visible symptoms of ammonia poisoning is seen through the skin. If a person's skin comes in contact with ammonia, they may experience a chemical burn. The burn may appear superficial at first, but since ammonia breaks down tissue, it can actually be a deep tissue burn.
Medical care is essential to treat ammonia poisoning. There is no specific form of treatment for the poisoning, but the symptoms may be relieved with quick and efficient care. If the ammonia is not washed away from the affected area immediately, it may prove life threatening for that individual.
Some states have information and instructions on what to do if you come into contact with ammonia. I picked up a handout about it at a government building. I think the scariest thing about ammonia is if it were to be used as part of a terrorist attack. I think there have been such incidents before.
The handout says to immediately leave the are where ammonia is found to prevent further exposure. We are supposed to remove all clothing that has ammonia on it, because it can actually poison other people around us. Kids are especially vulnerable. And lastly, we are supposed to wash all areas with soapy water, wash our eyes with water if they were exposed and wait for more instructions from the authorities.
Most of our cleaning products have ammonia but I don't think that the ammonia in them are strong enough to cause ammonia poisoning. It certainly won't if you use a small amount, use gloves, open windows and dilute it with water while cleaning.
I think that the ammonia that causes poisoning is mostly found in industrial facilities or farms. I know that facilities that make fertilizer, dyes for fabric and other chemicals use ammonia the most. The workers who have to deal with these chemicals have the highest risk of ammonia poisoning.