Smoke inhalation injuries are caused by inhalation or exposure to hot gaseous products of combustion, this can cause serious respiratory complications, and it is the primary cause of death in victims with indoor fires.
In these injuries diagnosis is not always easy and symptoms may not appear until 24-48 hours after the exposure, that’s why it is important to immediately evaluate any person with suspected smoke inhalation.
Children under the age of 11 and adults over the age of 70 are most vulnerable to the effect of smoke inhalation; firefighters are at a great risk for smoke inhalation because of their occupation.
Smoke inhalation injuries are related to three causes:
- Inhalation of carbon monoxide or cyanide (used in construction material) will impair or reduce the level of oxygen at the tissue level. This will manifest as shortness of breath and blue-gray or cherry-red skin color, carbon monoxide poisoning can appear symptomless up until the point where the patient becomes comatose. It is an immediate threat to life and is treated with 100% oxygen.
- Hot gases cause heat injury by causing burns to the upper airways. Signs of heat damage are singed nasal hears, burns around and inside the nose and mouth, and internal swelling of the throat.
- Inhalation of toxic gases and the products of combustion may cause irritation and chemical injury to the throat and lungs. This will manifest as noisy breathing, coughing, hoarseness of the voice, black or gray sputum, and fluids in the lungs.
- Contact your doctor immediately whenever smoke is inhaled for more than a few minutes.
- Treatment varies depending on the severity of the damage. The first step in the treatment is to maintain an open airway and supply adequate oxygen. The patient may be given 100% humidified oxygen through a mask if the airways are patent (intact) and the victim is stable. Oxygen is often the only treatment necessary. However other modes of treatment may be needed such as bronchodilators, suction, endotracheal intubation, chest physiotherapy, adequate fluid and antibiotics if there is infection.
The prognosis for recovery is usually good with adequate medical treatment however the outcome depends on the severity of the smoke inhalation, if there were accompanying burns, injuries or medical conditions.
This information is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. Call 911 for all medical emergencies.