Fast Facts about Huffing

“Huffing,” or inhaling volatile substances, is becoming increasingly popular among children, especially among 12- to 14-year-olds (Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 1998;152(8):781–786).Fast Facts about Huffing

Alarmingly, about 20% of eighth-graders report having done it (International Journal of Addiction, 1993;28:1613–1621).

Besides sudden cardiac arrest (the most common cause of death from inhalants), huffing can kill quickly in a number of other ways. Motor vehicle accidents, falls, and other traumatic injuries are common and horrible. Others die from suffocation, burns, suicide (from the depression that can follow the high), and from choking–on their own vomit.

Huffing can kill the very first time children experiment with it. About 22% of those who die from it do so the first time they try it (Human Toxicology, 1989;8:261–269).

When huffing doesn’t kill quickly, it damages the body each time–especially the brain. Huffing can cause memory loss, impaired concentration, hearing loss, loss of coordination, and permanent brain damage. Chronic use can cause permanent heart, lung, liver, and kidney damage as well.

Solvents (found in glues, paints, and polishes), fuels (such as butane), nitrites (found in deodorizers), and almost any kind of aerosol spray can be responsible.

Most huffing takes place with friends (although kids who sniff correction fluid in class when their teachers turn away are not uncommon). Be observant of your child and his or her friends.

Inhalants gradually leave the body for 2 weeks following huffing–mostly through exhaling. The characteristic odor is the biggest clue. Be on the lookout for breath or clothing that smells like chemicals. Look for clothing stains. Watch for spots or sores around the mouth.

Nausea, lack of appetite, weight loss, nervousness, restlessness, and outbursts of anger can all be signs of inhalant abuse. A drunk, dazed, or glassy-eyed appearance might mean your child is abusing inhalants right now.

If you suspect or discover that you child is huffing, get professional help. Treating inhalant abuse is very difficult and requires expert intervention. Withdrawal symptoms may last for weeks. The relapse rate without a long-term (2-year) program is very high.

Preventing huffing is far better than trying to treat an inhalant addiction. Talking with your child about it is more powerful than anything else (NIDA Research Monograph, 1988;85:8–29).

Start talking with your child about it now. Although huffing peaks between the ages of 12 and 15 years, it often starts “innocently” in children only 6 to 8 years old (Pediatrics, 1996;97:3).

Literally thousands of easily available substances can be inhaled, so you can’t keep your child away from them. You can, however, educate and inspire.

For more information on huffing, I recommend visiting

Last medical review on: December 05, 2008
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Recent Comments

My son was found on a bike path at 15 years old, dead. He died of severe brain swelling, medical examiner stated huffing…. glade air freshener was found near the scene. Other things were involved but propane, butane & isobutane were found in his system…he also had a 2 inch cut on the top of his head but why would that cause that brain swelling??? WAUKESHA COUNTY WISONSIN is corrupt!! Its beens 15 years but the truth is coming out!

I’m 16 and my mom has been huffing paint since 1999 maybe 2000, she would not do it often when my family and I moved to Washington in 2013 and she was still doing it then but she was doing it more frequently now it’s 2019 and she now she is doing it every day, she gets horrible mood swings, she ruins everyone’s mood and day, she doesn’t like to do anything with us and Every time we tell her that it’s going to hurt her bad and that it might kill her and I’m scared that I’m going to lose my mom soon

Hey Joshua,

I know it’s been a year since you posted this, but as a person who works in an ME related profession, I wanted to suggest something besides corruption. The laceration to your departed son’s head could indicate a fall. It doesn’t take a major impact to injure the brain, causing it to swell, leading to death. If he was inhaling and passed out or simply stumbled (he’d not be 100% coherent while inhaling), a fall could easily happen. That, and if he struck anything on the way down, other than the impact with the ground. The ingredients you listed are all very common propellants added to the aerosol cans, so it would be expected to find those in his system. I’m very sorry for your loss, as a father myself, I can’t imagine what that’s like. I just wanted to hopefully give you an insight and angle that might help you come to terms with the reasons, and find closure. Respectfully.

My son was caught in class today sniffing a dry erase marker. The teacher called me to inform me and I am VERY concerned. He said he was only smelling the marker and he has always been the type to try and make people laugh. I dont want to over react and freak out on him but Im just not sure how to approach this. I have researched a bunch of info and videos to educate him with but Im not sure how hard I should be on him with this . Do I ground him? Do I send him to counseling to see what the source is to make him do this or see if this is really an issue? I just want to do the right thing.

it’s not just for teenagers, my soon-to-be-ex 51 year old husband started huffing spray paint when he was 16 years old, left it for many years (with occasional relapses) and then about 3 years ago started doing it on a regular basis. His huffing history rendered him sterile and it has totally messed up his personality. He has a Dr. Jekyll Mr. Hyde persona. When in Mr. Hyde mode he goes into rages where he is foaming at the mouth. He is unable to function at work and in his relationships. His continued use has destroyed our future, our marriage, his career, and I am really surprised it has not killed him yet. So — spray paint can be a deceiver. You can NOT live a normal, functioning life on that addiction. Be aware and stay away from it!

Sharon, thank you for sharing your sobering story. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through and are going through with this tragic turn, and so appreciative of your hard-won wisdom that could make a big difference for other adults and their significant others.

Sharon, thank you for sharing your sobering story. I’m so sorry for all you’ve been through and are going through with this tragic turn, and so appreciative of your hard-won wisdom that could make a big difference for other adults and their significant others.