Medical Definition of Ammonia

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Ammonia: A colorless gas with a very sharp odor. Made both by humans and by nature, ammonia dissolves easily in water and evaporates quickly. Liquid ammonia is found in many household cleaners. Ammonia is irritating to the skin, eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. Exposure to high concentrations in the air can severely burn the skin, eyes, throat, or lungs. In extreme cases, blindness, lung damage, or death can occur. Breathing lower concentrations causes coughing and nose and throat irritation. Swallowing ammonia may burn the mouth, throat, and stomach.

The amount of ammonia produced by humans every year is almost equal to that produced by nature every year. Ammonia is produced naturally in soil by bacteria, decaying plants and animals, and animal wastes. Ammonia is essential for many biological processes. Most of the ammonia produced in chemical factories is used to make fertilizers. The remaining is used in textiles, plastics, explosives, pulp and paper production, food and beverages, household cleaning products, refrigerants, and other products. It is also used in smelling salts.

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Reviewed on 12/21/2018

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