Ammonia is a strong, colorless gas. If the gas is dissolved in water, it is called liquid ammonia. Poisoning may occur if you breathe in ammonia. Poisoning may also occur if you swallow or touch products that contain very large amounts of ammonia.
WARNING: Never mix ammonia with bleach. This causes the release of toxic chlorine gas, which can be deadly.
This article is for information only. DO NOT use it to treat or manage an actual poison exposure. If you or someone you are with has an exposure, call your local emergency number (such as 911), or your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States.
- Ammonia gas
- Some household cleaners
- Some liniments
- Some fertilizers
Note: This list may not be all-inclusive.
Airways, lungs, and chest:
- Chest pain (severe)
- Chest tightness
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid breathing
Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and throat:
- Tearing and burning of eyes
- Temporary blindness
- Throat pain (severe)
- Mouth pain
- Lip swelling
Heart and blood:
- Rapid, weak pulse
- Collapse and shock
- Difficulty walking
- Lack of coordination
- Stupor (altered level of consciousness)
- Bluish-colored lips and fingernails
- Severe burns if contact is longer than a few minutes
Stomach and gastrointestinal tract:
- Severe stomach pain
Do NOT make a person throw up unless told to do so by poison control or a health care professional. Seek immediate medical help.
If the chemical is on the skin or in the eyes, flush with lots of water for at least 15 minutes.
If the chemical was swallowed, immediately give the person water or milk, unless told otherwise by a health care provider. Do NOT give water or milk if the person is having symptoms (such as vomiting, convulsions, or a decreased level of alertness) that make it hard to swallow.
If the poison was inhaled, immediately move the person to fresh air.
Before Calling Emergency
Determine the following information:
- Person's age, weight, and condition
- Name of product (as well as the ingredients and strength, if known)
- Time it was swallowed
- Amount swallowed
Your local poison center can be reached directly by calling the national toll-free Poison Help hotline (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This hotline number will let you talk to experts in poisoning. They will give you further instructions.
This is a free and confidential service. All local poison control centers in the United States use this national number. You should call if you have any questions about poisoning or poison prevention. It does NOT need to be an emergency. You can call for any reason, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
What to Expect at the Emergency Room
The health care provider will measure and monitor the person's vital signs, including temperature, pulse, breathing rate, and blood pressure. Blood and urine tests will be done. The person may receive:
- Airway and breathing support, including oxygen. In extreme cases, a tube may be passed through the mouth into the lungs to prevent aspiration.
- Chest x-ray
- EKG (electrocardiogram, or heart tracing)
- Endoscopy - a camera down the throat to see burns in the esophagus and stomach
- Fluids through a vein (by IV)
- Medicines to treat symptoms
Damage is related to the amount and strength (concentration) of the ammonia. Most household cleaners are relatively weak and cause little or mild damage. Industrial strength cleaners can cause severe burns and injury.
Survival past 48 hours usually indicates recovery will occur. Chemical burns that occurred in the eye frequently heal; however, permanent blindness may result.
Kulig K. General approach to the poisoned patient. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 147.
Levine MD, Zane R. Chemical injuries. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 64.
Nelson LS, Hoffman RS. Inhaled toxins. In: Marx J, ed. Rosen's Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2013:chap 159.
Update Date 11/2/2014
Updated by: Jacob L. Heller, MD, MHA, Emergency Medicine, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.