Phosgene is a chemical used in plastics and pesticides. It can also be made when chemicals with chlorine are broken down or burned. Phosgene exposure can happen when someone comes in contact with this gas, liquid, or food that is contaminated with it.
The health problems from this will depend on how much phosgene was taken in and for how long. It also depends on the parts of the body that were harmed. Sometimes, lasting damage to tissue or death can happen.
People can be exposed by:
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You are at risk if you are near sources that make phosgene. Places with at higher risk are:
The most common exposure is by breathing the gas. At first, it may only cause minor eye or throat problems. But problems tend to worsen and reappear over 48 hours.
Breathing problems are:
Skin problems are:
Eye problems are watering or bleeding.
Common problems are headache, nausea, and vomiting.
You will be asked about your symptoms and health history. The doctor will ask how you were exposed and for how long. A physical exam will be done. Tests may be done depending on your exposure. You may have a skin or eye exam.
Pictures may be taken of the lungs and the structures around it. This can be done with:
There is no cure. People exposed to phosgene, then taken away from the source, may start to feel better. You will need to be watched for 48 hours. Supportive care, such as oxygen or a breathing tube, may be needed until you can heal.
Call for emergency medical services and tell them about the phosgene exposure. Take these steps right away:
You must rest for the first 48 hours after exposure. It will lower the risk of lung problems.
The best way to prevent phosgene exposure is to know about it and avoid it. If you work somewhere that is high risk, follow protective steps from your company and National Occupational Safety agency.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Occupational Health and Safety Association
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
Acute management overview—phosgene exposure. NIH Chemical Hazards Emergency Medical Management website. Available at: https://chemm.nlm.nih.gov/phosgene_hospital_mmg.htm. Updated September 29, 2017. Accessed July 20, 2018.
Facts about phosgene. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://emergency.cdc.gov/agent/phosgene/basics/facts.asp. Updated April 12, 2013. Accessed July 20, 2018.
Toxic inhalation injury. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T906193/Toxic-inhalational-injury. Updated March 5, 2015. Accessed July 20, 2018.
Last reviewed June 2018 by James Cornell, MD Last Updated: 7/20/18