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Hydrocarbon poisoning

William J Lewander, MD
Alfred Aleguas, Jr, BS Pharm, PharmD, DABAT, FAACT
Section Editor
Michele M Burns, MD, MPH
Deputy Editor
James F Wiley, II, MD, MPH


This topic will discuss hydrocarbon poisoning. Inhalant abuse in children and adolescents is discussed separately. (See "Inhalant abuse in children and adolescents".)


Hydrocarbon ingestion accounts for one to two percent of non-pharmaceutical exposures in children younger than six years of age reported to United States poison control centers [1]. Although rare, hydrocarbon aspiration may cause death secondary to respiratory failure. Hydrocarbons were implicated in almost 5 percent of all single substance fatalities in this pediatric population [1]. Gasoline, chlorofluorocarbon propellants, motor oils, lighter fluid/naphtha, lamp oil, and mineral spirits, are the most commonly ingested substances [1]. In young children, the ingestion typically occurs as a result of exploratory behavior. Frequently, the hydrocarbon is unsecured or improperly stored in a drinking container (eg, soda bottle). Moderate or major toxic effects are associated most commonly with ingestions of lamp oil, kerosene, lighter fluid, and/or naphtha [2,3]. Toxicity in adolescents often arises from inhalant abuse of hydrocarbons. (See "Inhalant abuse in children and adolescents".)

Product safety — Since 2001, the United States consumer product safety commission has required child-resistant packaging for products that have low viscosity and contain ≥10 percent hydrocarbon by weight (table 1) [4]. In 1997, the European Union attempted to minimize lamp oil aspiration by setting standards for viscosity and surface tension, the main determinants of aspiration risk. A follow-up study in 2005 showed no effect on number or severity of hydrocarbon aspiration in the years since the directive [5].


The four structural classes of hydrocarbons are:

Aromatic hydrocarbons

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Literature review current through: Nov 2017. | This topic last updated: Apr 25, 2017.
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