a. General Information. More than half of all fire related deaths are caused by
smoke inhalation. Eighty percent of those who die in residential fires do so because
they have inhaled heated air, smoke, or other toxic gases. The substance inhaled by
the patient can burn the respiratory tract causing potentially lethal results.
b. Causes. Three causes of inhalation injury are heat inhalation, inhalation of
toxic chemicals or smoke, and inhalation of carbon monoxide gas. A thermal burn
patient who was in an enclosed space is liable to also have an inhalation injury.
c. Severity of Inhalation Burn. These factors determine the severity of an
Degree of combustion (how complete the combustion was).
Duration of exposure (how long the patient was exposed).
Whether the person was in an enclosed space.
d. Effects on the Body. The effects on the body of inhaled toxic substances
include the following:
(1) Internal damage. When noxious fumes are inhaled, mucosa in the lungs
swell and break. This results in fluid leaking into the nearby alveolar spaces and
damaging the cilia. Mucus builds up and plugs the air passages. This may lead to
reduced oxygen exchange and, if left untreated, death.
(2) Cause of death. The usual cause of death in inhalation cases is from
pneumonia. An immediate death is often caused by respiratory edema; therefore,
edema is the greater concern when you are caring for an inhalation patient.
(3) Carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a major
cause of death at the scene of a fire. Even when it is not the cause of death, it can
cause long term neurological damage by depriving the brain of oxygen.
Almost anything gives off carbon monoxide when it burns. It is colorless,
odorless, and tasteless, making it difficult to detect.
(4) Unconscious patient. If an inhalation victim is unconscious, assume he
is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning.