Skip to Main Content


Hydrocarbons are a diverse group of organic compounds consisting primarily of carbon and hydrogen atoms. The two basic forms of hydrocarbons are aliphatic (straight- or branched-chain) and cyclic configurations. Halogenated (halogen group) and aromatic (benzene ring) hydrocarbons are two examples of aliphatic and cyclic hydrocarbon subclassifications, respectively. Products containing hydrocarbons are found in many household and occupational settings (Table 193-1).

Table Graphic Jump Location
Table 193-1 Common Products That Contain Hydrocarbons

Most hydrocarbons are produced by petroleum distillation, which results in predominantly aliphatic mixtures of hydrocarbons of different chain lengths. Chain length and branching determine the phase of the hydrocarbon at room temperature. Short-chain aliphatic compounds (up to 4 carbons), such as methane, ethane, propane, and butane, are gases; intermediate-chain aliphatic compounds (5 to 19 carbons), such as solvents, lamp oil, lighter fluid, and gasoline, are liquid; and long-chain aliphatic compounds (>19 carbons), such as waxes, are solids. Liquid hydrocarbons account for most exposures seen in the emergency department.1


Exposures to hydrocarbons and volatiles most commonly occur as ingestions or inhalations. Most hydrocarbon exposures have a benign clinical course. During 2008, the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ Toxic Exposure Surveillance System received reports of 46,418 exposures to hydrocarbons.1 Significant toxicity was uncommon; only 2267 patients experienced moderate or major effects. There were 17 deaths where hydrocarbons were mentioned; 13 of which were isolated exposures to a hydrocarbon. Ingestions were more likely than inhalation to produce serious toxicity. Hydrocarbon aspiration accounts for 20% of aspiration accidents in children <5 years of age.2 Pulmonary symptoms and signs develop in 40% to 50% of the children who ingest hydrocarbons.3–5 Rare cases of suicidal injection of gasoline or kerosene with severe multi-organ toxicity have been reported.6,7


Volatile solvent abuse most often occurs in teenagers and younger adults, especially those in lower socioeconomic groups, who abuse volatile liquid chemicals or gases for the euphoric effects (Table 193-2).8 Hydrocarbons can be abused in different ways: (1) in “huffing” the individual soaks a rag with the inhalant and then ...

Want remote access to your institution's subscription?

Sign in to your MyAccess profile while you are actively authenticated on this site via your institution (you will be able to verify this by looking at the top right corner of the screen - if you see your institution's name, you are authenticated). Once logged in to your MyAccess profile, you will be able to access your institution's subscription for 90 days from any location. You must be logged in while authenticated at least once every 90 days to maintain this remote access.


About MyAccess

If your institution subscribes to this resource, and you don't have a MyAccess profile, please contact your library's reference desk for information on how to gain access to this resource from off-campus.

Subscription Options

AccessMedicine Full Site: One-Year Subscription

Connect to the full suite of AccessMedicine content and resources including more than 250 examination and procedural videos, patient safety modules, an extensive drug database, Q&A, Case Files, and more.

$995 USD
Buy Now

Pay Per View: Timed Access to all of AccessMedicine

24 Hour Subscription $34.95

Buy Now

48 Hour Subscription $54.95

Buy Now

Pop-up div Successfully Displayed

This div only appears when the trigger link is hovered over. Otherwise it is hidden from view.