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Huffing Air Duster: The Dangers of Inhaling Compressed Air

Last Updated: January 13, 2022

Authored by Olivier George, Ph.D.

Reviewed by Michael Espelin APRN

The abuse and addiction to inhalants is common among teenagers. Records indicate that about 21.7 million Americans above age 12 have used inhalants. The main reason is that they are cheap and can be easily obtained. Common inhalants that are abused include gasoline, glue, paint, and dusters. Dusters are cans of compressed gases used to clean computer keyboards. While huffing duster is more common among teenagers, however, there have been reported cases of men above 40 years undergoing treatment for inhaling dusters.

What Is Huffing Air Duster Fumes?

Huffing is a practice where a person sprays or pours an inhalant onto a piece of cloth and huffs in the fumes. Therefore, huffing air duster products involves the same process using air duster drugs. Air duster drugs contain compressed gases whose pressure is higher than the pressure in the atmosphere. Also known as canned air, huffing compressed gas is illegal and can produce serious health risks. These effects can affect both the physical and psychological state of the body. Abusing air duster spray can also cause irregular heartbeats. Worse still, huffing compressed gases can lead to heart failure which may end up in death.

What Happens When You Inhale Compressed Gases?

When compressed gas is huffed, the chemicals quickly travel to the brain and induce some dangerous effects. The chemicals affect the part of the brain responsible for mobility. Thus, the user either experiences difficulty moving or cannot move at all due to the intoxicating effect. The use of duster drugs can also destroy the myelin membrane, a layer that is responsible for the quick transmission of impulses along the nerve cells. Destruction of the membrane reduces the impulses and this can lead to diseases like multiple sclerosis. Inhaling dusters can also cause brainstem dysfunction which affects the sensory organs, mobility, and cognitive abilities.

Air Duster over white background.

Health Risks And Effects Of Huffing Air Duster

As already mentioned, there are dangerous side effects of huffing air duster. Inhalants like whippits and dust off affect both the brain, liver, kidneys, lungs, and heart. The health risks of abusing inhalants differ from person to person and can be long-term or short-term. However, some of these side effects are permanent. Here are some long and short-term health effects of inhaling dust off.

Short-Term Effects Of Inhaling Dusters

The initial effects of dust off addiction can be anything from CNS depression to fainting. Likewise, these effects are similar to those produced by alcohol abuse. Unfortunately, users tend to take repeated doses of these substances, since the effects do not last for a long time.

As a Result, They May Experience One or More of the Following Physical Symptoms:

  • Tremors
  • Lethargy
  • Dizziness
  • Inarticulate speeches
  • Headache
  • Poor Coordination
  • Increased Pulse Rate
  • Sensory Changes
  • Rapid, Irregular Heart Rhythm
  • Loss of Consciousness
  • Intoxication

Abusing air duster spray like a keyboard air cleaner also comes with some short-term psychological effects. These effects may disappear once the chemicals from the keyboard air cleaner are out of the body. These include:

  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Delayed reflexes
  • Lightheadedness
  • Impaired coordination

Although most of the effects mentioned above are not severe, some effects like rapid and irregular heart rhythm can lead to death. Other effects like intoxication, hallucination, and loss of consciousness can cause the victim to fall and lead to serious injuries. To avoid all these, people especially adolescents should stay away from the use of duster products or any other inhalants, such as for example glue huffing. Addicts should not hesitate to contact health facilities if they feel these signs.

Long-Term Effects Of Inhaling Dusters

The long-term side effects of huffing air duster are very injurious and could become permanent if care is not taken. Some of these effects may go away after withdrawal from the air duster drugs. Others may linger on and may need medical help. So, early treatment is a very essential treatment. Therefore, people who abuse duster drugs should seek help to avoid any negative health conditions. Here is a list of long-term side effects of huffing air duster.

Mental Health Problems After Inhaling Air Dusters

Huffing duster can cause psychological problems in the abusers. The medication is a central nervous system depressant that can damage the brain.

Here Is a List of Mental Health Problems Associated With Inhaling Dusters:

  • Persistent Low Mood– Huffing duster causes psychological problems like persistent low moods. This happens immediately after the effects of the air duster spray have worn off.
  • Muscle Weakness– According to health experts, inhaling dusters can cause general muscle weakness. Muscular spasms are also symptoms of huffing air duster.
  • Impaired Cognition– Another side effect of inhaling dust off is trouble remembering or learning new things.
  • Poor Judgment– The intoxicating effect caused by the chemicals can lead to poor judgment. The chemicals may delay the impulses to the brain necessary for making a good judgment.
  • Concentration Problems– Huffing compressed air will lead to low concentration since the drug will alter the brain’s ability to concentrate. This makes the patient easily lose focus.

Physical Health Problems After Inhaling Air Dusters

Huffing canned air comes with associated physical problems which can be fatal. This is a list of physical issues caused by air dusters:

  • Stunted Growth in Kids– Inhaling dusters during pregnancy can result in reduced prenatal weight and affect the growth of children.
  • Bone Marrow Disorders– Another long-term effect is bone marrow disorders. According to research, inhaling difluoromethane which is a chemical in compressed air leads to skeletal fluorosis.
  • Loss of Hearing– Addicts of dust off are prone to losing their ability to hear. This is because inhaling compressed air may affect the part of the brain that controls hearing.
  • Changes in Weight– Difluoroethane also affects the body mass by altering the fat storage system in the body. Thus, abusers may suffer weight changes caused by inhaling canned air products.
  • Damage to Body Organs– Compressed air causes serious damage to vital body organs including the heart, liver, kidneys, and lungs. The highly concentrated volatile hydrocarbons in compressed air can injure vital organs.
  • Sniffing Death Syndrome– In some cases, people reported immediate deaths due to sniffing. This happens when the inhalant causes the heart to beat erratically causing a heart attack which can lead to death.
  • Lack of Oxygen in the Body Due to Troubled Breathing– The hydrocarbons can clog the airways making breathing difficult. If help is not immediately sought, this can lead to death.
  • Fatal Injuries Due to Falls or Burns– The intoxicating effect of the inhalants can impair good judgment and cognitive skills. This can lead to falls that may result in fatal injuries.

Although some of these effects may take a while before surfacing, effects like sniffing death syndrome can occur the first time a user huffs compressed air products. That is why it is important to stay away from inhalants and to monitor adolescents as they use these, or other inhaling products, such as spray paint.

Huffing Duster Abuse And Addiction Overview

Huffing dusters is common among young children and adolescents though experts have noted that it can occur in any age group. Statistics state that adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 are the major culprits of inhaling high amounts of dust off. These children then develop a dependence on the air duster spray and before long they become addicts. This phenomenon has caused some stores to ban the sale of air duster spray to children below the age of 18.

Signs and Symptoms Of Air Duster Abuse And Addiction

Inhaling high volumes of  dust off comes with visible signs. These are physical signs which are temporary and can easily be detected. Some of them are general symptoms associated with inhalant abuse like sniffing gasoline. However, further investigations can uncover the type of inhalant being abused.

Physical Signs of Air Duster Abuse And Addiction Include:

  • Slurred speech
  • Sores near the mouth
  • Intoxication
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • The smell of chemicals on the breath
  • Frequent absenteeism from school or work

These signs may go away once the addiction stops. Others, like the sores near the mouth, may require treatment. Treatment for the symptoms can be sought at medical centers but to withdraw from the addiction, addicts should contact rehabilitation centers. Psychological signs of addiction and abuse are a bit more difficult to perceive. However, they are the most dangerous and require immediate attention when detected.

Here Is a List of Some of the Psychological Signs of Inhaling Dusters:

  • Confusion
  • Mood swings
  • Impaired cognitive skills
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations

Inhaling high amounts of dust off can cause permanent brain damage. Abusers should contact treatment centers immediately if these signs are detected. Delaying treatment can only worsen the situation, as well exacerbate the inhalants side effects.

A woman in pain sitting on bed.

Who Is Most At Risk Of Duster Abuse

Teenagers and adolescents are most at risk of inhaling dusters. According to the National Capital Poison Center, about 20% of 8th graders reported abusing inhalants including dusters. The reports indicated that parents were not aware of this use, abuse, and addiction by their wards. Inhaling dust off is common among adolescents because a product like a keyboard air cleaner is cheap and can be obtained with ease. Considering the severe side effects of huffing high volumes of duster including death, parents must be careful of how they use and store such items.

Withdrawal Symptoms of Dust off Addiction

Withdrawal symptoms appear when a person stops taking the substance of abuse. This is because the body is deprived of dependence on the air duster spray. The central nervous system is also affected by huffing compressed air. The period of withdrawal can start anywhere from a few hours to days after quitting. The period of withdrawal is influenced by the length of misuse. As a result, several unpleasant symptoms will trouble a person during this period. Available stats indicate that about 50% of inhalant addicts report withdrawal symptoms.

The Symptoms of Duster Drugs Withdrawal Include:

  • Sweating
  • Tremors
  • Nausea
  • depression
  • Shakiness
  • Loss of sleep
  • Excessive nervousness
  • Hallucinations
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Psychotic symptoms

Psychotic symptoms wear off quickly, but insomnia, depression, and anxiety can linger. Early diagnosis is important in treating these symptoms. The symptoms can begin with 48 hours of withdrawal and last till about a week. Nasal spray addiction can also become a big concern for users, so seeking early medical intervention will prevent further health complications.

Treatment Options For Duster Addiction And Abuse

Early treatment is essential if addicts are to survive the deadly practice. Several treatment options exist for people who abuse compressed air. Treatment options depend on several factors such as length of abuse, symptoms, side effects, etc.

Here Are a Few Treatment Options:

Medical Detox– the initial stage is to get the dusters out of the patient’s system. This is known as drug detox. This involves gradual tapering off until the drugs are out. Drug detox also involves the management of withdrawal symptoms. Sometimes doctors prescribe medicines to help with the detox process.

Inpatient Treatment– is a residential program where the patient is housed at the rehab center and monitored round-the-clock. Under the inpatient treatment program, patients follow a strict schedule to help them recover from duster addiction. The patient also gets to participate in recovery-related group activities and has immediate access to medical care.

Outpatient Treatment– involves staying outside the rehab center. Patients commute to the center whenever they have a session. Like the inpatient treatment, patients receive counseling sessions and therapy to help them overcome dust off addiction. This type of treatment program allows the patients to go to work or school while receiving treatment. Family and friends are also encouraged to be in constant contact with the patient during the recovery phase.

Addiction Therapy– this focuses on the behavioral and psychological aspects of withdrawing from drugs. Addiction therapy helps the patient to cope with cravings and things that trigger the desire for dusters. Combined with treatment, addiction therapy prevents a relapse. A very effective addiction therapy is Motivation Enhancement Therapy which improves the clients’ motivation to quit inhaling compressed air.

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Page Sources

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Published on: April 4th, 2017

Updated on: January 13th, 2022

About Author

Olivier George, Ph.D.

Olivier George is a medical writer and head manager of the rehab center in California. He spends a lot of time in collecting and analyzing the traditional approaches for substance abuse treatment and assessing their efficiency.

Medically Reviewed by

Michael Espelin APRN

8 years of nursing experience in wide variety of behavioral and addition settings that include adult inpatient and outpatient mental health services with substance use disorders, and geriatric long-term care and hospice care.  He has a particular interest in psychopharmacology, nutritional psychiatry, and alternative treatment options involving particular vitamins, dietary supplements, and administering auricular acupuncture.

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