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 gas, liquid, or food that is contaminated with it.
People can be exposed by:
Pathway to the Lungs
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This problem is more common in people who are near sources of phosgene, such as:
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.
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.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. You will also be asked about your exposure to any chemicals. A physical exam will be done. A skin or eye exam may also be done.
Pictures may be taken of the lungs and the structures around it. This can be done with:
There is no cure. Avoiding sources of phosgene may improve symptoms.
The goal of treatment is to manage symptoms. Choices are:
To lower the risk of this problem:
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. Accessed October 28, 2020.
Chen TM, Malli H, et al. Toxic inhalational exposures. J Intensive Care Med. 2013 Nov-Dec;28(6):323-333.
Facts about phosgene. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Accessed October 28, 2020.
Toxic inhalation injury. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/toxic-inhalational-injury. Accessed October 28, 2020.
Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD