Smoke inhalation

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]

Overview

Smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires.

Pathophysiology

The smoke injures or kills by a combination of thermal damage, poisoning and pulmonary irritation caused by carbon monoxide, cyanide and other combustion products.

Epidemiology and Demographics

It is estimated that "50-80% of fire deaths are the result of smoke inhalation injuries rather than burns."[2]

Diagnosis

History and Symptoms

Symptoms range from coughing and vomiting to nausea, sleepiness and confusion.

Physical Examination

HEENT

Burns to the nose, mouth and face; singed nostril hairs; and difficulty breathing / carbonaceous sputum (burned saliva) are also signs of smoke inhalation injury.

Treatment

Medical Therapy

Any person with apparent signs of smoke inhalation should be immediately evaluated by a medical professional such as a firefighter-paramedic or physician. Advanced medical care may be necessary to save the life of the patient, including mechanical ventilation, even if the person is conscious and alert. Pending advanced intervention, the patient should be brought into fresh air and given medical oxygen if available.

References


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