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A complicated hospitalization following dilute ammonium chloride ingestion



Unintentional ingestions of dilute (<7.5%) cleaning solutions containing ammonium chloride typically do not cause serious harm. We present a case of an intentional ingestion of a dilute ammonium chloride solution resulting in significant morbidity.

Case Report

A 60-year-old woman with bipolar disorder presented one hour after an intentional ingestion of approximately 15 fluid ounces (500 mL) of an algae and odor humidifier treatment containing a total of 2.25% ethyl ammonium chloride. Initial complaints included nausea with a single episode of nonbilious, nonbloody emesis, mild shortness of breath, and chest and epigastric pain. Physical exam was remarkable for bilateral wheezing and epigastric tenderness. An emergent endoscopy demonstrated a Grade 2b caustic injury in the esophagus and a Grade 3b injury in the stomach. Due to persistent cough, copious oral secretions, and worsening hoarseness, the patient was intubated and admitted to the ICU. Her course was complicated by mild hypotension, nonanion gap metabolic acidosis, and oliguria treated successfully with intravenous (IV) fluids. She also developed bilateral pneumonias later in the hospital course. Bedside bronchoscopy showed laryngeal edema and mucosal injury to the segmental level. The patient underwent tracheostomy on hospital day 6. An upper GI swallow study revealed poor esophageal motility in the mid- to lower third of the esophagus. The patient gradually tolerated oral fluids and on hospital day 20 had her tracheostomy tube removed. The patient was subsequently transferred to the psychiatric ward on hospital day 22.


Intentional ingestions of dilute ammonium chloride solutions can cause serious injury to the gastrointestinal tract and pulmonary systems, which can result in a complicated and prolonged hospitalization.


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Author information

Correspondence to Jerrold B. Leikin MD.

Additional information

Notes: Accepted for presentation to the North American Congress of Clinical Toxicology, Toronto, Canada, September 2008. There was no outside funding of any kind used for this study.

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Hammond, K., Graybill, T., Spiess, S.E. et al. A complicated hospitalization following dilute ammonium chloride ingestion. J. Med. Toxicol. 5, 218–222 (2009).

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  • ammonium chloride
  • caustic
  • acid