Smoke Inhalation (cont.)
Smoke Inhalation Causes
Smoke inhalation damages the body by simple asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), chemical irritation, chemical asphyxiation, or a combination of these.
- Simple asphyxiants
- Combustion can simply use up the oxygen near the fire and lead to death when there is no oxygen for a person to breathe.
- Smoke itself can contain products that do not cause direct harm to a person, but they take up the space that is needed for oxygen. Carbon dioxide acts in this way.
- Irritant compounds
- Combustion can result in the formation of chemicals that cause direct injury when they contact the skin and mucous membranes.
- These substances disrupt the normal lining of the respiratory tract. This disruption can potentially cause swelling, airway collapse, and respiratory distress.
- Examples of chemical irritants found in smoke include sulfur dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, and chlorine.
- Chemical asphyxiants
- A fire can produce compounds that do damage by interfering with the body's oxygen use at a cellular level.
- Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide are all examples of chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the use of oxygen by the cell during the production of energy.
- If either the delivery of oxygen or the use of oxygen is inhibited, cells will die.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning has been found to be the leading cause of death in smoke inhalation.
Christopher P Holstege, MD
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