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How Dangerous Is It?

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Chlorine gas exposure is no laughing matter

Exposure to low levels of chlorine gas can result in nose, throat, and eye irritation. At higher levels, breathing chlorine gas may result in damage to the lungs. Symptoms can include changes in breathing rate, coughing, shortness of breath and chest pain and a burning sensation in the throat and under the sternum.

The response to chlorine exposure depends on the concentration of chlorine gas, the duration of exposure, the water content of the tissues exposed, and individual susceptibility. The immediate effects of chlorine gas toxicity include acute inflammation of the mucus membranes of the eye, nose, throat, larynx (vocal cords), trachea, and bronchi. Irritation of the airway mucosa leads to local swelling and more severe exposure can the capillaries filling up with blood sometimes to the point where they can rupture. The fluid from the swelling oozes out resulting in filling the alveoli (air sacs of the lungs) with fluid, resulting in the lungs filling with fluid. The amount of fluid that accumulates creates difficulty in breathing for the victim. Prompt treatment is important. If the person is experiencing severe respiratory problems they may need to be place on a ventilator. In the January, 2009 edition of the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, they reported that in the South Carolina major chlorine gas exposure, the people who had severe respiratory effects and needed hospitalization, some who had been on ventilators, most went home after about a week in the hospital.

The eye is seldom damaged severely by chlorine gas toxicity; however, burns and corneal abrasions have occurred. Acids formed by the chlorine gas reaction with the mucous membranes are buffered, in part, by the tear film and the proteins present in tears. Consequently, acid burns to the eye typically cause surface but rarely permanent damage. Burns to the center of the cornea may lead to corneal ulcer formation and subsequent scarring.

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Author info

Linda Michal has a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing, and is a Nurse Practitioner. She is the head of Student Health Services and the Dean of Students for North Idaho College

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