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Poppers may be marketed as air freshener, vinyl cleaner, or nail polish remover. ViDi Studio/Getty Images
  • After reports of hospitalizations and deaths among people using nitrite poppers, the Food and Drug Administration issued a warning about these products.
  • Poppers are sold at adult novelty stores or online, and may be marketed as air freshener, vinyl cleaner, or nail polish remover.
  • Some people ingest or inhale these products to get high or to enhance their sexual experience.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers not to purchase or use nitrite poppers because they can cause serious health problems, including death, when inhaled or ingested.

Poppers are sold at adult novelty stores or online, and may be marketed as air freshener, vinyl cleaner, or nail polish remover. But some people ingest or inhale these products to get high or to enhance their sexual experience.

These products are sold under brand names such as Jungle Juice, Extreme Formula, HardWare, Quick Silver, Super RUSH, Super RUSH Nail Polish Remover, and Premium Ironhorse.

The FDA issued its warning because it has noticed an increase in reports of hospitalizations and deaths after inhalation or ingestion of nitrite poppers.

This includes health problems such as dizziness, severe headaches, increases in body temperature, difficulty breathing, dangerous decreases in blood pressure, issues with the oxygenation of the blood (methemoglobinemia), and brain death.

The FDA recommends against use of nitrite poppers for recreational purposes or sexual enhancement.

These products “should not be ingested or inhaled unless specified/prescribed by a healthcare provider,” the FDA said in a statement.

If you experience any health problems after using these products, the FDA said you should seek medical care immediately.

Poppers contain a class of compounds called alkyl nitrites, such as amyl nitrite and isobutyl nitrite, which are liquids that evaporate at room temperature.

These compounds relax the smooth muscles in the body, such as the layer of muscles that surround the blood vessels.

Poppers can also relax the smooth muscle in the anus and vagina, which is why these products are sometimes used for enhancing sex.

Relaxation of the smooth muscle around the blood vessels causes the vessels to dilate, or widen, which can increase the flow of blood throughout the body.

However, this can also cause a drop in blood pressure, which may result in lightheadedness or dizziness.

Inhaling or ingesting poppers can also cause other health problems, such as methemoglobinemia, a potentially life threatening blood disorder that leads to inadequate delivery of oxygen to cells.

Use of poppers has even been linked to vision problems and allergic skin reactions.

Diane Calello, executive and medical director of the New Jersey Poison Control Center at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said using poppers alongside sexual-enhancing chemicals such as sildenafil (Viagra) can worsen the side effects.

“This doubles the effect and the toxicity [of poppers], because sexual enhancers also drop blood pressure,” she said. “Never combine chemicals like these; the results could be fatal.”

Health problems can also arise when combining poppers with blood pressure medications.

Drinking alcohol while using poppers may also lead to more severe health effects. In addition, people with underlying heart or other medical conditions may also be at higher risk of serious side effects.

Dr. Gregory M. Taylor, an assistant professor of clinical emergency medicine at Indiana University School of Medicine in Indianapolis, said some people who buy or use poppers may not know exactly what they are or the possible negative health effects.

People may also confuse these products with energy drinks, he said, which are often sold at convenience stores in similar colorful containers, with equally catchy names.

While side effects can occur after inhalation or ingestion of poppers, ingesting them can cause more severe health problems because of the rapid absorption of the chemical into the bloodstream.

Taylor and his colleagues published a case report earlier this year in Oxford Medical Case Reports about a 69-year-old man who ended up in the emergency department after ingesting isobutyl nitrite.

The man’s symptoms included dizziness, headache, fatigue, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, and gray discoloration of his skin.

He was treated and admitted to the intensive care unit. His symptoms cleared up about 7 hours after treatment, and he was discharged the next day.

Taylor said side effects of poppers can occur soon after ingestion or inhalation, even after a single use of the product.

Within 30 seconds, people can experience side effects such as low blood pressure and rapid heart rate, he said. Other side effects may appear over the next 30 minutes.

The severity and timing of the side effects “depends on the concentration of what was actually ingested or inhaled,” Taylor said, but using higher doses can cause more severe and rapid onset of symptoms.

Delaying medical care can also put a person’s health at risk.

“If our patient [in the case report] hadn’t come in until the next day, he may have already suffered brain damage and died,” said Taylor.

Calello said consumers who have used poppers in the past should not be concerned about ongoing health problems.

“There do not appear to be long-term effects,” she said. “But of course a cardiac arrest or other organ damage can leave a lasting mark.”

“So don’t take the chance. Consumers should just heed the warnings to immediately discontinue use.”

At the end of the day, Taylor said it is important to learn about products and medications before using them.

“Bring it up with your primary care doctor,” he said. “Tell them what product you are looking at, and if your doctor is not familiar with it, they will definitely look into it.”