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ACUTE EXPOSURE INFORMATION
- USES: Ammonia is used as a refrigerant, a fertilizer, in explosives, and as a cleaning and bleaching agent, and is widely available for household use.
- TOXICOLOGY: Ammonia may cause liquefaction necrosis. It can saponify the fats in the cell membrane, destroying the cell and allowing deep penetration into mucosal tissue. In gastrointestinal tissue an initial inflammatory phase may be followed by tissue necrosis (sometimes resulting in perforation), then granulation and finally stricture formation.
- EPIDEMIOLOGY: Ammonia is widely available in household cleaners and in fertilizers; exposure is common. Serious effects are rare in the developed world (generally only seen in adults with deliberate ingestion), largely because household ammonia is typically available in low concentrations (5% to 10% aqueous solution). Serious effects are more common in developing countries.
- WITH POISONING/EXPOSURE
- MILD TO MODERATE ORAL TOXICITY: Patients with mild ingestions may only develop irritation or grade I (superficial hyperemia and edema) burns of the oropharynx, esophagus or stomach; acute or chronic complications are unlikely. Patients with moderate toxicity may develop grade II burns (superficial blisters, erosions and ulcerations) are at risk for subsequent stricture formation, particularly esophageal. Some patients (particularly young children) may develop upper airway edema.
- Ammonia ingestion may produce burns to the oropharynx, upper airway, esophagus and occasionally stomach. Spontaneous vomiting may occur. The absence of visible oral burns does NOT reliably exclude the presence of esophageal burns. The presence of stridor, vomiting, drooling, and abdominal pain are associated with serious esophageal injury in most cases.
- PREDICTIVE: The grade of mucosal injury at endoscopy is the strongest predictive factor for the occurrence of systemic and GI complications and mortality.
- SEVERE ORAL TOXICITY: May develop deep burns and necrosis of the gastrointestinal mucosa. Complications often include perforation (esophageal, gastric, rarely duodenal), fistula formation (tracheoesophageal, aortoesophageal), and gastrointestinal bleeding. Upper airway edema is common and often life threatening. Hypotension, tachycardia, tachypnea and, rarely, fever may develop. Stricture formation (esophageal, less often oral or gastric) is likely to develop long term. Esophageal carcinoma is another long term complication. Severe toxicity is generally limited to deliberate ingestions in adults in the US, because ammonia products available in the home are generally of low concentration.
- INHALATION EXPOSURE: Mild exposure may cause cough and bronchospasm. Severe inhalation may cause upper airway edema and burns, stridor, and rarely acute lung injury.
- OCULAR EXPOSURE: Ocular exposure can produce severe conjunctival irritation and chemosis, corneal epithelial defects, limbal ischemia, permanent visual loss and in severe cases perforation.
- DERMAL EXPOSURE: Mild exposure causes irritation and partial thickness burns. Prolonged exposure or high concentration products can cause full thickness burns.
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