Smoke Inhalation (cont.)
Smoke Inhalation Symptoms
Numerous signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation may develop. Symptoms may include cough, shortness of breath, hoarseness, headache, and acute mental status changes.
Signs such as soot in the airway passages or changes in skin color may be useful in determining the degree of injury.
- When the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract get irritated, they secrete more mucus.
- Bronchospasm and increased mucus production lead to reflex coughing.
- The mucus may be either clear or black depending on the degree of burned particles deposited in the lungs and trachea.
- Shortness of breath
- This may be caused by direct injury to the respiratory tract, leading to decreased oxygen delivery to the blood, the decreased ability of blood to carry oxygen because of chemicals in smoke, or the inability of the body's cells to use oxygen.
- The patient may have rapid breathing as they attempt to compensate for these injuries.
- Hoarseness or noisy breathing
- This may be a sign that fluids are collecting in the upper airway and may cause a blockage.
- Irritant chemicals may cause vocal cord spasm, swelling, and constriction of the upper airways.
- Eyes: Eyes may be red and irritated by the smoke, and there may be burns on the corneas in the eyes.
- Skin color: Skin color may range from pale to bluish to cherry red.
- Soot in the nostrils or throat may give a clue as to the degree of smoke inhalation.
- The nostrils and nasal passages may be swollen.
- In all fires, people are exposed to various quantities of carbon monoxide.
- The patient may have no respiratory problems, but may still have inhaled carbon monoxide.
- Headache, nausea, confusion and vomiting are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Changes in mental status
- Chemical asphyxiants and low levels of oxygen can lead to mental status changes.
- Confusion, fainting, seizures, and coma are all potential complications following smoke inhalation.
Christopher P Holstege, MD
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