Options For Treating Smoke Inhalation

November 26, 2023

According to the Burn Institute, well over half of individuals involved in a fire die from the effects of smoke inhalation, not burns from the fire itself. Smoke inhalation must always be treated with extreme caution. Any individual who has inhaled more than just a wisp of smoke needs medical attention regardless of whether or not they are outwardly exhibiting symptoms of smoke inhalation. Symptoms of smoke inhalation include coughing, difficulty breathing, singed nostril hairs, headache, confusion, chest pain, and soot in the nose or throat. Soot deep in the throat is a potentially severe sign, though it may not be visible to a layperson. Only licensed medical professionals are qualified to determine if a smoke inhalation victim needs treatment or not. This article will discuss some methods used to treat smoke inhalation.

Performing CPR

If a potential smoke inhalation victim isn't breathing, they will need CPR until emergency help arrives. First, call 911, and then put the individual on a firm surface. Next, clear the person's airway of any debris and push their chin upwards. The next step is chest compressions, which start by the individual placing one hand on top of the other and push hard on the victim's chest between their nipples. Aim for one hundred or so compressions a minute. After the first thirty compressions, stop long enough to administer two rescue breaths. Pinch the victim's nostrils shut and use your lips to form a seal around the victim's mouth. Breathe deeply into their mouth two times. The chest should visibly rise with each breath. Resume compressions, once again giving thirty, then perform two rescue breaths again. Continue in a cycle until the individual begins breathing on their own or until paramedics arrive. These directions are a general guide, so only use them in emergencies. Better yet, take a CPR course designed to give certification in the proper way of performing CPR.

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The first thing medical personnel will do for a smoke inhalation victim is to administer this life-giving element. Oxygen is generally administered through a face mask or nose tube, but in some severe cases, it may be given through a tube inserted into the throat. A humidified form of oxygen, which has added moisture, is also a treatment option in some cases. This therapy helps to reverse the symptoms of hypoxia, or insufficient oxygen in the body. It also helps to displace carbon monoxide from hemoglobin. Smoke contains high amounts of carbon monoxide, which has a high affinity, or preference, for hemoglobin. Hemoglobin normally carries oxygen throughout the body. If it's carrying carbon monoxide instead, the effects can be lethal.

Keep reading to learn about the next treatment for smoke inhalation.


A bronchoscope is a medical device that explores the lung area without the need for surgery. It consists of a thin, flexible, fiber-optic tube with a tiny camera at the end. The tube is passed through the nose or throat and then down into the lungs. Typically, a pulmonologist performs this procedure. A pulmonologist is a doctor trained to treat lung diseases.

A bronchoscopy can clear smoke particles from the lungs and any mucus that may be causing breathing problems. Other secretions formed by dying cells can also be cleared. The procedure can detect signs of developing pneumonia before symptoms appear. Bronchoscopies are also used to evaluate the overall condition of the lungs and determine how much smoke damage there is. This helps physicians to develop an effective treatment plan for each patient. Possible complications from a bronchoscopy include bleeding, collapsed lung, and fever.

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Hyperbaric Oxygenation

A hyperbaric chamber delivers oxygenation at pressures higher than those experienced at normal atmospheric pressure. This is the same therapy given to divers with decompression sickness, which occurs when divers ascend too fast from depths beyond thirty-three feet. Under the water pressure, nitrogen from divers' tissues is forced into the blood. There it forms bubbles, which cause pain and damage. The condition can be fatal.

Under pressure similar to that of the depth in which the diver was, the hyperbaric chamber forces nitrogen from the blood back into the tissues where it belongs. Hyperbaric oxygenation helps smoke inhalation victims by clearing the blood of carbon monoxide and cyanide faster. Cyanide gas is a common component of certain types of fires. The pressure of the chamber also provides additional oxygenation to the blood, fighting hypoxia. This type of therapy is standard when arterial blood tests show high levels of cyanide and carbon monoxide.

Understand how medications can help treat individuals dealing with smoke inhalation now.


Medications for smoke inhalation focus on treating specific symptoms as they appear. Hydroxocobalamin reverses the potentially fatal effects of cyanide poisoning from the cyanide present in many kinds of fires. Some patients may experience spasms of the airways, making it difficult to breathe. Drugs known as bronchodilators help to relieve these spasms. Antibiotics may be used to prevent infection of the airway or facial burns, and they are also useful to treat or prevent pneumonia that can result from smoke inhalation. Methemoglobinemia, a condition in which the body's hemoglobin cannot deliver enough oxygenation, can be sometimes caused by smoke inhalation. It can be treated with methylene blue. Thiosulfate and sodium nitrite are alternative medications for cyanide toxicity. Nebulized heparin and N-acetylcysteine are two other drugs used to help clear the lungs of the harmful fibrin casts that cause inflammation in the lungs of smoke inhalation victims.

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