Respiratory Therapist/Toxic fumes


I have been exposed to the strong fumes of charcoal lighter fluid, being used as a constant fuel for torches, for three months by my neighbors in our conjoined Townhouse. This is a fuel to be used as a starter fluid only, not continuously. It is used at least 4 nights a week for at least 4 hours a night. I now find that even BBQ odors, which never bothered me before cause me problems. The initial strong fumes caused elevated blood pressure, from 140/90 to rise to 220/120 and pus filled lesions in my throat. Can exposure for an extended period of time cause one to become so sensitized to fumes that even light exposure can make problems recur after they have temporarily subsided? As such, will this be an ongoing problem as long as the lighter fluid is being used in one manner or another?  The neighbors are uncooperative. The initial strong fumes would come in right through tightly closed windows, and we had to remove the batteries from our smoke detectors because they constantly were going off. Please let me know about the sensitivity issue and thank you for your help.


Acute or chronic exposure to such fumes is a danger to health and can cause long-term sensitization and potential chronic health problems in some people.  Responses can be highly individual when it comes to sensitization and some people will become sensitized after a single acute exposure, some only after chronic exposure, even at very low levels, and some never.  Yes, one can become sensitized to the extent that very low levels of the substance  will produce recurrence of symptoms and worsening of symptoms in some cases. But excessivley high blood pressure can certainly be a more immediate, and life-threatening danger that is important to address.

The effects and duration of such sensitization are also highly individual and variable, but never good; it is important that you stop this exposure as soon as possible to limit any further consequences to your health.  Also  avoid any smoke, fumes, air freshener, strong cleaning agents, or anything else that may act as an irritant,  or otherwise trigger similar responses or symptoms. In some cases sensitization to one agent can result in sensitiviy to other agents. And, try to support good health through a healthy diet which is vitally important at this time.

Anyone chronically exposed to toxic  substances will be affected adversely on some level whether or not they realize it.  I had a  problem, similar to yours, with a neighbor a few years ago. He would burn trash, leaves, wood, whatever he could find, night and day seven days a week sometimes and refused to stop. I had to resort to calling the police only to be told that legally he could literally kill us this way if he wanted to. I became so sensitized that my body would start to react long before I was even able to smell  the smoke.  It did not seem to bother him but after a few years he became very ill and had to move so I have had much less  exposure  over the last two years and I have noticed some improvement, but my tolerance is still low. I also developed highly increased sensitivity to gas fumes, exhaust, dust and a few other chemicals and these have remained.

The bottom line is that there are no hard and fast rules regarding sensitization because there are just too many variables and too little solid knowledge about the spectrum of interactions  in this area in general.  You can get more information from the American Academy of Environmental Medicine at

If you are not able to resolve this problem with your neighbor amicably you might try a couple of other routes. One is to determine if such use if prohibited by the manufacturer of the product, if so, you have legal grounds for asking the police to stop its use for this purpose. Whether or not they will is another matter. But also, take a look at the MSDS or material safety data sheet for the product to get some important information that can also be used to support your complaint based on health effects. You can download them online for the particular product. You can see a sample at  Secondly, lodge a complaint for disturbing the peace since your smoke detector is being set off by this frequently. Ironically, they are more prone to act on a noise violation than one that really endangers life or health. Otherwise, you may need to consult an attorney.

Best of luck with this matter. I hope you will have a quick recovery, and that your neighbors will decide to be considerate and do the right thing for everyone's sake.

Respiratory Therapist

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Stephanie Tyrrell


Respiratory Therapy is a very diverse field encompassing many specialty areas. I have experience in many of these areas and I am willing to answer any question I feel competent to answer within the scope of my experience in the following areas: neonatal ICU and transport, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep studies, BiPAP/CPAP therapy, Holter monitoring, EKG, ventilator management, chronic and acute respiratory diseases,(i.e. COPD, asthma, restrictive disease, ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome), pneumonia, etc) and therapeutics, arterial blood gases, and others. Please see my profile under Experience for a full listing of areas of experience.


I have worked in respiratory therapy for over 25 years in all facets of patient care including level 4 neonatal ICU and neonatal transport, Director of Cardiopulmonary, community health fairs and networking, staff therapist, pulmonary rehabilitation, sleep studies and BiPAP/CPAP therapy, Holter monitoring, EKG, cardiac clinics, pre and post cardiac surgery education and patient care, emergency and long-term ventilator management, chronic diseases such as COPD, asthma, cystic fibrosis; acute respiratory distress syndrome, emergency room, home and nursing home respiratory care. I also provided temporary staff to area hospitals through an allied health business I owned and managed, while also working as a staff therapist for the business.

Certified Respiratory Therapist, Registered Respiratory Therapist, Licensed RT, NRP ((Neonatal Resuscitation Program) certified, BS Biology/Botany, MS Environmental Sciences - Toxicology

Past/Present Clients
Thousands of in-patient and out-patient clients in the hospitals I was/am employed by as well as a number of local hospitals that utilized the services of my allied health business. I currently work as a respiratory therapist at a general hospital and a rehabilitation hospital.

©2016 All rights reserved.