Hydrocarbon pneumonia

Hydrocarbon pneumonia is caused by drinking or breathing in gasoline, kerosene, furniture polish, paint thinner, or other oily materials or solvents. These products cause fairly rapid changes in the lungs, including inflammation, swelling, and bleeding.


  • smell of a hydrocarbon product on the breath  
  • shortness of breath  
  • coughing  
  • vomiting  
  • fever  
  • stupor  
  • coma

Signs and tests

  • x-ray of the chest  
  • blood gas monitoring

Mild cases may be evaluated in the emergency room, but may not require hospital admission.

People with moderate and severe cases are normally admitted to the hospital, occasionally to intensive care. Hospital treatment may include:

  • Pumping the stomach if the ingested material is particularly toxic - a tube is placed through the mouth or nose into the stomach and the stomach contents are suctioned out  
  • Oxygen  
  • A breathing tube a mechanical ventilator may be needed to assist the breathing  
  • Activated charcoal and a cathartic (laxative-type medication) may be needed, depending on the type of substance ingested

Expectations (prognosis)
Most children who drink or inhale hydrocarbon products and develop chemical pneumonitis recover fully following treatment. Highly toxic hydrocarbons may lead to rapid respiratory failure and death.


  • pleural effusion  
  • pneumothorax  
  • secondary bacterial infections

Calling your health care provider
If you know or suspect that your child has swallowed or inhaled a hydrocarbon product, take them to the emergency room immediately. DO NOT use ipecac to induce vomiting!

If you have young children, be sure to identify and store materials containing hydrocarbons carefully.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 8, 2012
by Armen E. Martirosyan, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.