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Burns. 2000 Aug;26(5):493-7.

Anhydrous ammonia burns case report and review of the literature.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Maricopa Medical Center, Phoenix, AZ 85008, USA.


Chemical burns are associated with significant morbidity, especially anhydrous ammonia burns. Anhydrous ammonia is a colorless, pungent gas that is stored and transported under pressure in liquid form. A 28 year-old patient suffered 45% total body surface area of second and third degree burns as well as inhalational injury from an anhydrous ammonia explosion. Along with fluid resuscitation, the patient's body was scrubbed every 6 h with sterile water for the first 48 h to decrease the skin pH from 10 to 6-8. He subsequently underwent a total of seven wound debridements; initially with allograft and then autograft. On post burn day 45, he was discharged. The injuries associated with anhydrous ammonia burns are specific to the effects of ammonium hydroxide. Severity of symptoms and tissue damage produced is directly related to the concentration of hydroxyl ions. Liquefactive necrosis results in superficial to full-thickness tissue loss. The affinity of anhydrous ammonia and its byproducts for mucous membranes can result in hemoptysis, pharyngitis, pulmonary edema, and bronchiectasis. Ocular sequelae include iritis, glaucoma, cataracts, and retinal atrophy. The desirability of treating anhydrous ammonia burns immediately cannot be overemphasized. Clothing must be removed quickly, and irrigation with water initiated at the scene and continued for the first 24 h. Resuscitative measures should be started as well as early debridement of nonviable skin. Patients with significant facial or pharyngeal burns should be intubated, and the eyes irrigated until a conjunctivae sac pH below 8.5 is achieved. Although health care professionals need to be prepared to treat chemical burns, educating the public, especially those workers in the agricultural and industrial setting, should be the first line of prevention.

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