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Coachrobmd, Internal Medicine MD
Category: Medical
Satisfied Customers: 1785
Experience:  •Fmr. Dir. Hep. C Clinic. •Fmr. Dir. Head Trauma Rehab Ctr.
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If you've been inhaling antifreeze fumes for the past

Resolved Question:

If you've been inhaling antifreeze fumes for the past several months (driving for at least 2 hours a day) but not realized it was a heater core leak in the car (until now) is/are there any neurological side effects that might develop? I.E. more difficulty with problem solving skills, learning new things, etc?
Submitted: 5 years ago.
Category: Medical
Expert:  Coachrobmd replied 5 years ago.
The three main systems affected by ethylene glycol poisoning are the central nervous system, metabolic processes, and the kidneys.
However, these are the side effects of INGESTING (taking by mouth) ethylene glycol, the active ingredient in antifreeze. In city hospitals, this is commonly seen because alcoholics will drink it when they can't find booze, and it is considerably cheaper. Treatment is dialysis, IV medications or straight ethanol into the vein to prevent it from binding to human cells.
But that's not the case for you, as it was only inhaled. I don't know of, nor have I heard of, any specific recommendations for inhaled antifreeze. It is not listed in my textbooks as a toxin when inhaled, even in large amounts. I suppose it COULD cause headaches or interfere with your sense of smell in large amounts, but the long term sequelae that I could find are none. That is to say, there should be no long term side effects, neurologic or otherwise, unless you actually drink it.
In fact, it has a sweetish odor. That it has been used in cars for decades without significant case reports of inhalation injuries should put your mind at ease. I'm sure PLENTY of other people have had leaks that they did not know about. Having worked in ER's for years, the only problems I've seen are those resulting from ingestion, never inhalation. This is not like glue sniffing, where the odor is dangerous because the active ingredients are of a small molecular size and quite toxic. Ethylene glycol particles are fairly large, and entry into the CNS through the nasal membranes, if any, would not be significant.
So, I would not be concerned. Even if there WERE short term problems, the treatment of E.G. poisoning is for acute exposure through the GI tract, not those past exposure of inhalation. Of course, that's not to say I'm encouraging anybody go out and sniff the stuff.
I think other than headaches, if any, you will be fine. Get the car fixed, and you should be set.
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