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Hazards - More Hidden Health Hazards

Teen Health Challenges


Updated September 27, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.


Huffing is a one way that some kids abuse common household chemicals, such as spray paint, Dust-Off compressed air cleaner, paint thinner, glue, and many other volatile solvents.

Although kids also abuse these inhalants in other ways, when huffing, they breathe the fumes from a chemical soaked rag. Huffing is common, especially with pre-teens and younger teens, because the items they use are inexpensive or already available in many homes, and many parents aren't aware how kids might be abusing them.

How common is huffing and inhalant abuse?

Recent surveys show a 12 percent lifetime prevalence of use for 12 graders, with many starting as early as the 8th grade. What is perhaps most troubling is that many don't see any great risk in trying huffing once or twice, while 22 percent of the deaths of inhalant abusers and no previous history of inhalant abuse.

Parents can help prevent huffing by first being aware that it happens and learning to recognize signs of inhalant abuse, such as:

  • sores or spots around your child's mouth

  • stains or chemical odors on clothing

  • breath that has a chemical odor

  • a change in behavior, especially if your child has become more irritable or anxious
  • having a drunk, dizzy, or dazed appearance

  • an unexplained drop in grades in school or change in activities

  • finding household products, like spray paint, compressed air, or glue, in unusual places

Prescription Drug Abuse

Unlike many other drugs, such as LSD, methamphetamine, and heroin, that have been showing declines in abuse in recent years, the abuse of prescription drugs is on the rise. Some studies now show that up to 20 percent of teens report that they have abused a prescription pain medication, stimulant, or tranquilizer.

Prescription drug abuse often includes the use of Ritalin, Adderall, OxyContin, Vicodin, and many other prescription medications without a prescription and without medical supervision.

In addition to keeping all prescription medications well secured or closely monitoring their use, especially pain medications, sedatives, stimulants, and tranquilizers, you can help to discourage prescription drug abuse by:

  • talking to your kids about prescription drug abuse, especially warning them that just because a drug is available by prescription doesn't mean that it is safe to take without medical supervision

  • warning your kids to never take a pill from someone else

  • properly dispose of unused medications, but be careful that your kids don't remove them from the trash

  • watching for signs and symptoms of prescription drug abuse, which, depending on the drug, might include constricted pupils, anxiety, or slurred speech, etc.

  • warning grandparents, other family members, and friends to secure their prescription medications in their homes

Other Hidden Health Hazards

Parents always seem to be surprised when there is an article or news report about some new hidden health hazard, like the choking game or the fact that kids are abusing cough medicine. Read up about all of these hidden health hazards so that you can recognize early signs or symptoms and so that you can talk to your kids before they are even at risk.


American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Inhalent Abuse. PEDIATRICS Vol. 119 No. 5 May 2007, pp. 1009-1017.

American Academy of Pediatrics Clinical Report. Lipid Screening and Cardiovascular Health in Childhood. PEDIATRICS Vol. 122 No. 1 July 2008, pp. 198-208.

CDC. Revised Recommendations for HIV Testing of Adults, Adolescents, and Pregnant Women in Health Care Settings. MMWR. September 22, 2006 / 55(RR14);1-17. Accessed September 2010.

CDC. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance-United States, 2009. MMWR 2010;59(SS-5):1-142. Accessed August 2010.

Katbamna B. Acquired hearing loss in adolescents. Pediatr Clin North Am - 01-DEC-2008; 55(6): 1391-402.

Monitoring the Future. National Results on Adolescent Drug Use. Overview of Key Findings 2009. Accessed August 2010.

Shargorodsky J. Change in prevalence of hearing loss in US adolescents. JAMA. 18-AUG-2010; 304(7): 772-8.

Unger J. Preventing type 2 diabetes. Prim Care - 01-DEC-2008; 35(4): 645-62

Vogel I. MP3 players and hearing loss: adolescents' perceptions of loud music and hearing conservation. J Pediatr - 01-MAR-2008; 152(3): 400-4.

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