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Inhaled substance or object

3-minute read

Sometimes people accidentally swallow or breathe in something they shouldn’t. That includes liquids, powders, gases and solid items such as medicines or drugs, particularly:

  • small parts from toys
  • food or drink that has ‘gone down the wrong way’
  • smoke from fires
  • chemical and toxic fumes, including household gas (such as the gas from your cooker), aerosols or glues
  • button batteries

Button batteries

Button batteries are small disc-shaped batteries that are commonly used in toys and small electrical products. Australian doctors have reported a spike in the number of severe and fatal button battery injuries to children over recent years. Button batteries can cause life-threatening injuries and even death, especially if they become stuck in the oesophagus (food pipe). Keep them out of reach of children.

When to call the ambulance

It can be hard to work out if a small object or fluid has been swallowed or inhaled. If in doubt, call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).

If you or your child has inhaled an object, such as a button battery, call an ambulance on triple zero (000).

You should go to the nearest emergency department if you have been advised to do so, or if you, or your child, have:

Chemical and toxic fumes

Fumes from chemicals or toxic substances can irritate your airways, skin and eyes, and inhaling a substance can make your nose and throat sore or swollen.

If you have inhaled chemical or toxic fumes, you should get into fresh air straight away. Open doors and windows wide.

If you are with someone who has inhaled toxic fumes, seek medical attention immediately. If they have collapsed, call triple zero (000) for an ambulance and start resuscitation. Tell the operator what the poison was. If you’re not sure, you can call the Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26.

If the person vomits, turn their head to the side to prevent choking.

Do not try to rescue someone if there is a toxic gas involved, as you may also inhale the substance. Call triple zero (000) for help.

Some cleaning products can produce toxic gases when they’re mixed together. If this happens, get into fresh air. When it is safe to do so, dispose of the mixed cleaning products safely. There should be instructions on the side of the packaging about safe disposal.

Inhaling substances deliberately

Some people may deliberately inhale the vapours of common household substances, such as glue, petrol and aerosol spray, to make them feel intoxicated or to harm or injure themselves.

If you have done this, you should know you are not alone and help is available. Please discuss this with a healthcare professional. Find out more about self harm.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2019

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