Do Inhalants lead to Asthma?

The definition of an inhalant is a medicine, allergen, or other substance that is inhaled. Often individuals engage in inhalant use by using substances that are not meant for inhalation in order to produce a “high.” There are four major classifications of inhalants: volatile solvents, gases, nitrites, and aerosol sprays. Volatile solvents are liquids that become a gas at room temperature like paint thinners and removers, gasoline, glues, and felt-tip marker fluids. The inhalant’s effects on the user are a quick form of intoxication-excitation followed by drowsiness, disinhibition, staggering, lightheartedness, and agitation. Gases are a type of inhalant that includes medical gases, like ether and nitrous oxide inhalants, and household or commercial products such as butane lighters, propane tanks, and whipped cream dispensers that contain nitrous oxide, and refrigerants. Nitrites are inhalants that are chemical compounds found in food preservatives, leather cleaner, room deodorizers, etc. and they act directly on the central nervous system, brain and spinal cord. The inhalant street names for nitrites are "poppers" or "snappers” and are often used to enhance sexual experience and pleasure. Aerosol sprays are some of the most prevalent household inhalants in the home and the ones most often associated with inhalant abuse. They include spray paint, deodorant and hairsprays, vegetable oil cooking sprays, and static cling sprays. See below for a picture of the some of the most commonly used inhalants.

Pictures of InhalantsPictures of Inhalants

Using inhalants long-term can produce severe inhalant side effects like headaches, nosebleeds, and the potential to suffer loss of hearing and sense of smell. Inhalant abuse is the most likely of all the abused substances to cause severe toxic reaction and death. The risk of inhalant use, even just one time use, can kill you. Not only are using inhalants like aerosols dangerous for the person abusing them, but the dangers of inhalants extend to the environment as well. They were dangerous until certain propellant changes were made. The propellant that used to force the aerosol out of the can was a chlorofluorocarbon (CFC), which damages the ozone layer but now aerosol cans use a hydrocarbon gas, nitrogen or air depending on the material to be sprayed. This is true of aerosol inhalers as well, which are inhalants for medical use, especially for asthma treatment. CFCs were used, but they have now been phased out and hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs) are being used instead.

Aerosols are known triggers for asthmatics and can cause inflammation in the lungs. Many aerosol sprays, cleaning products, and perfumes are known to cause asthma attacks. The potential for aerosols to be a cause of asthma is something that has been under investigation. There is evidence that exposure to some cleaning products can cause respiratory problems and worsen existing asthma, and there are several studies that have found that the rate of asthma among janitors, professional cleaners, housekeepers and porters is disproportionately higher than in the rest of the workforce suggesting that these aerosol cleaners could be an asthma cause. To avoid exacerbating existing asthma by exposure to aerosols, asthmatics should use the following tips: not staying in the home if it is being painted, letting the paint dry completely before re-entering the home, avoiding perfume and perfumed cosmetics, avoiding the use of room deodorizers, using non-perfumed household cleaning products, and reducing strong cooking odors as much as possible by using a fan and opening windows. It also is important to remember to take medication as it is prescribed because controller inhalers can help to provide asthma control even when exposed to asthma triggers.