Ammonia - When something smells wrong

Igor Makarovsky, Gal Markel, Tsvika Dushnitsky, Arik Eisenkraft

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Ammonia is a common household and industrial chemical. In the medical literature and the electronic press there are many descriptions of accidental spills of anhydrous ammonia, but apart from the Chechen war, there is no evidence of its intentional use by a terrorist to date. When considering its characteristics, ammonia tankers may pose an imminent threat for a civilian population nearby. This short review attempts to highlight the main health issues and basic principles of medical management after exposure to ammonia. Ammonia can directly cause damage due to its irritating as well as alkaline properties. The management of toxic exposure to ammonia is largely supportive and there is no specific antidote. Emergency medical response on site includes rapid evacuation, life-saving procedures and decontamination if necessary and if possible. Major clinical manifestations include respiratory symptoms, such as hypoxia, bronchospasm and pulmonary edema, as well as hypovolemia and burns to the skin and eyes. The immediate medical management consists of life-saving procedures and supportive care, while broad-range antibiotics and systemic corticosteroids may have a role in preventing late onset complications.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)537-543
Number of pages7
JournalIsrael Medical Association Journal
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2008
Externally publishedYes


  • Ammonia
  • Frostbite
  • Health effects
  • Inhalational exposure
  • Terror


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