Updated on February 6, 2024
5 min read

Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome: Causes, Prevention, and More

Key Takeaways

What is Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome (SSD)?

Sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSD) is immediate death caused by inhaling poisonous chemicals. SSD can happen instantly or a few minutes after use.1

It’s often difficult to save the life of someone who has died from SSD because a fatality can happen quickly. People can only prevent SSD by avoiding inhalant abuse. Unlike other drugs capable of causing an overdose, there is no safe dose of an inhalant.


Online Therapy Can Help

Over 3 million people use BetterHelp. Their services are:

  • Professional and effective
  • Affordable and convenient
  • Personalized and discreet
  • Easy to start
Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Woman drinking coffee on couch

What Causes Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome?

SSD is caused by poisonous chemicals found in inhalant drugs. Inhalants are chemical vapors that alter the mind when breathed in.3

Inhalants contain highly poisonous chemicals that can cause death by triggering a rapid, irregular heartbeat. You can also choke or suffocate to death after using an inhalant.2

Getting high on inhalants can lead to fatal injury due to displaying careless or aggressive behavior. Frequent inhalant use can also lead to a coma.2

Get Professional Help

BetterHelp can connect you to an addiction and mental health counselor.

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Rehab Together

How to Prevent Sudden Sniffing Death Syndrome

The best way to prevent sudden sniffing death syndrome is to avoid misusing inhalant drugs. You should especially avoid taking inhalant drugs if you have heart or breathing problems.

Other ways to prevent SSD include:

  • Understanding what causes SSD and its effects on a person
  • Seeking treatment for inhalant use disorders (IUD)

Call emergency medical attention immediately if you suspect someone is abusing inhalants. Although healthcare professionals can treat some symptoms of inhalant abuse, most people will die of sudden sniffing death syndrome before a first responder arrives.

Types of Inhalants

Inhalants can be found easily among everyday household products used for various purposes. These include:1,3

  • Paint thinners and removers
  • Dry-cleaning fluid
  • Degreasers
  • Gasoline
  • Glues
  • Correction fluids
  • Felt-tip markers
  • Butane
  • Propane
  • Aerosol cans (Spray paints, nail polish removers, & hair spray
  • Nitrates

How Do People Use Inhalants?

Inhalants are easy to get due to their easy accessibility. Most inhalant drugs are available as everyday household products.

Methods for inhaling fumes that can lead to sudden sniffing death syndrome include:

  • Sniffing or inhaling straight from the container 
  • Huffing a rag soaked with an inhalant
  • Inhaling fumes sprayed into a plastic bag (bagging)
  • Whippits which come from a unique canister or balloon to inhale nitrous oxide
  • Spraying aerosol sprays directly into the nose or mouth

Signs of Inhalant Abuse

Abusing inhalants can lead to physical and mental side effects. If you are using inhalants, you may show the following signs:4

  • The chemical scent on the breath or clothes
  • Paint or other stains on hands, fingers, or clothes
  • Changes in behavior, including apathy (lack of interest)
  • Significant decrease in appetite and weight loss
  • Sudden change in friends and hobbies
  • A rapid decline in school performance
  • Poor hygiene and grooming habits
  • Slurred speech
  • Tiredness
  • Ulcers or irritation around the nose and mouth
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Nasal symptoms (dryness, burning, bleeding, or drainage)
  • Trouble breathing
  • Coughing

Other mental symptoms may include:4

  • Confusion
  • Poor concentration
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Hostility
  • Paranoia

Inhalant Abuse Statistics

In 2011, more than 22 million Americans aged 12 and older used inhalants. Every year more than 750,000 people use inhalants for the first time.5 Throughout the years, this number has fluctuated.

In 2021, 0.8% or about 2.2 million people aged 12 or older have reported using inhalants in the past 12 months. Meanwhile, in 2022, teenagers have been using inhalants in the past 12 months at an estimated rate of:6

  • 3.6% of 8th graders
  • 2.4% of 10th graders
  • 1.8% of 12th graders

Lastly, in 2021 there was a decrease in the number of people reported to have an inhalant use disorder. Among people aged 12 or older, 0.1% or about 335,000 people had an inhalant use disorder in the past 12 months.6

Phone, Video, or Live-Chat Support

BetterHelp provides therapy in a way that works for YOU. Fill out the questionnaire, get matched, begin therapy.

Get Started

Answer a few questions to get started

Woman drinking coffee on couch

Effects of Inhalant Abuse

Inhalants damage your nerve fibers and break down the communication network of cells between the body and the brain. It can also damage brain cells by limiting the amount of oxygen that reaches your brain.5

Overall, abusing inhalants can lead to short and long-term damage:

Short-Term Effects

Inhalants produce short-term effects similar to alcohol because of their depressant effects. Short-term side effects include:5

  • Slurred speech
  • Lightheadedness
  • Intense feelings of happiness
  • Agitation
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Excitability
  • Loss of coordination
  • Upset stomach
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Mucous membrane irritation

Long-Term Effects

Aside from SSD, abusing inhalants can lead to long-term health complications due to how it damages the nerve fibers. These long-term side effects include:5

  • Lung damage
  • Liver and kidney damage
  • Hearing loss
  • Weakened immune system
  • Seizures
  • Memory problems and learning disabilities
  • Hallucinations
  • Speaking problems
  • Limb spasms
  • Brain damage
  • Heart rhythm changes
  • Coma

Treatment For Inhalant Use Disorder

Although there is no way to treat SSD, there are treatment options that can help you recover from IUD. These include:


Sudden sniffing death syndrome (SSD) is caused by fatally inhaling poisonous chemicals, typically inhalants. It is a condition that happens immediately or a few minutes after using an inhalant.

Inhalants can cause death by cardiac arrest, choking, or injury. It also has damaging short and long-term side effects.

Although there is no treatment for SSD, there are ways to prevent it from happening. You can educate yourself on SSD and inhalant use disorders (IUD). You can also seek treatment for IUD.

Get matched with an affordable mental health counselor

Find a Therapist

Answer a few questions to get started

Updated on February 6, 2024

Related Pages