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Side Effects of an Accidental Inhalation of Isopropyl Rubbing Alcohol

Updated March 23, 2017

Rubbing alcohol is used to clean skin irritations, soothe muscle or joint pain, sterilise equipment and prevent infections. During its usage, evaporated molecules may enter your nose while breathing, causing particles to inhale into the lungs. Depending on the parts per million (ppm) of alcohol that you inhale, you may experience some serious side effects.

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Short-Term Brain/Nerve Damage

As a result of temporarily wounding nerve cells with the toxic isopropyl rubbing alcohol fumes, you may experience dizziness, numbness, headache and nausea. Your head will briefly feel light followed by a dull ache, which subsides with time. Generally, this is nothing to worry about and fresh air will ease symptoms.

Ataxia/Narcosis

Exposure to 400 ppm for more than ten seconds can lead to disorientation and the inability to walk straight, referred to as ataxia. Continued exposure may result in narcosis, which is the temporary unconsciousness induced by a lack of oxygen to the brain. Both symptoms diminish with time and oxygen.

Sinus Cancers/Laryngeal Cancers

Continuous accidental exposure to isopropyl alcohol fumes, as is the case with factory workers managing the product, may result in cancer of the nose (sinus cancer) and larynx (laryngeal cancer). A respirator or breathing apparatus may be needed in conditions where air content of alcohol reaches 500 ppm or higher for durations of more than a minute.

Life-Threatening Conditions

At 12,000 ppm, or at concentrations where more than 1.2 per cent of your air supply contains isopropyl alcohol fumes, inhalation can be dangerous to your health. Fortunately, the human reflex is to jerk away from such heavy concentrations, and without prolonged exposure, negative side effects are mild if significant at all.

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About the Author

Sky Smith has been writing on psychology, electronics, health and fitness since 2002 for various online publications. He graduated from the University of Florida with honors in 2005, earning a Bachelor of Science in psychology and statistics with a minor in math.

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