Side Effects of Breathing Freon or Other Refrigerants

Freon is the trade name for a class of chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, used primarily in refrigeration and air conditioning. (Reference 5) Freon and other refrigerants are toxic and can cause poisoning and even death. Refrigeration service workers are at risk due to occupational exposure, but exposure most often occurs during intentionally sniffing the gas, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center, or UMMC. (Reference 4) Freon and other refrigerants are used by inhalant abusers to get high, an extremely dangerous practice. (Reference 1)


The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, or NIOSH, reports deaths caused by abnormal heart rhythms and suffocation in workers exposed to refrigerants in confined spaces. (Reference 2) "Sudden sniffing death syndrome" can result from exposure to refrigerants. (Reference 4) This syndrome happens when an inhalant abuser is startled, causing a release of adrenalin that stops the heart, explains American Family Physician. (Reference 1) Cardiac arrest and death can result from overexposure to refrigerants, according to an article in the August 2008 issue of the journal Environmental Health. (Reference 3)

Heart Problems

Exposure to dangerous levels of refrigerants resulting from abuse or occupation can have serious adverse effects on the heart. (Reference 4) Refrigerants are toxic to the heart and can result in heart attacks, high blood pressure and abnormal heart rhythms leading to circulatory collapse, according to the Environmental Health article. (Reference 3) NIOSH advises workers with potential exposure to refrigerants follow their guidelines regarding awareness, training, engineering controls, hazards in confined spaces, medical considerations and personal protective equipment such as:

  • respiratory protection
  • chemical protective clothing
  • to reduce the risk of death

(Reference 2)

Refrigerent Poisoning

Refrigerant poisoning can result from exposure, according to UMMC 3. Death is possible. Emergency medical care is required. Outcome after refrigerant poisoning depends on how severe the poisoning was, and how fast medical help began. Irreversible brain damage and severe lung damage can result. (Reference 4)