Freon gas is a colourless chlorofluorocarbon previously used in cooling systems. It was most commonly found in air conditioning units and refrigerators. It was banned by the EPA in 1994 due to environmental concerns. Deliberate freon gas inhalation is the most common form of freon gas inhalation exposure today. Deliberate inhalation causes severe effects. Accidental exposure also causes unpleasant reactions, but they tend to be less severe.
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Cardiac arrhythmia is the most dangerous effect of freon gas and is responsible for most of the instant deaths following inhalation. Cardiac arrhythmia is a term used to describe a variety of irregular heartbeats. There are 12 different types of cardiac arrhythmia. Freon gas inhalation most often causes ventricular fibrillation arrhythmia. Ventricular fibrillation is a quivering in the lower chambers of the heart. This causes blood to pool into the heart, rapidly leading to death.
Respiratory Obstruction and Collapse
Freon gas has a cooling effect. When inhaled, it can cause damage to the lungs similar to that of frostbite. This can result in cold-induced soft tissue swelling, which blocks airflow into the lungs. High pressure freon gas can cause air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli, to split open. When this happens, a part of the lung, or sometimes even the whole lung, can collapse. Both obstruction and collapse can lead to internal suffocation.
Liver Damage and Failure
Inhaling freon gas regularly over a long period time can cause liver damage and eventual liver failure. The liver is responsible for metabolising toxins. The toxins in freon gas damage the liver while it metabolises them. When freon gas is used regularly, the liver doesn't get a chance to regenerate and heal itself. Eventually, damage becomes overwhelming and the liver dies.
Freon gas inhalation has a number of minor symptoms. Inhaling low levels of freon, such as during a refrigerator leak, typically causes headaches, dizziness and lightheadedness. Some people also experience nausea and vomiting. These symptoms are most likely in small children after accidental inhalation. Rarely, people experience intense abdominal pain, blood in vomit and bloody stool. Freon can also cause skin irritation and burning if it gets on the skin.
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- Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: Freon
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