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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Smoke Inhalation

Smoke Inhalation Treatment continued...

If necessary, CPR should be initiated by trained bystanders until emergency medical help arrives.

Medical Treatment

A number of treatments may be given for smoke inhalation. 

  • Oxygen: Oxygen is the mainstay of treatment. It may be applied with a nose tube or mask or through a tube put down the throat. If there are signs of upper airway problems, for example hoarseness, the person may need to be intubated. To do this, the doctor places a tube down down the person's throat to keep the airway from closing due to swelling. If there is respiratory distress or mental status changes, the person may be intubated to let the staff help with breathing, to suction off mucus, and keep the person from breathing the contents of his or her own stomach.
  • Bronchoscopy: Bronchoscopy is a procedure done to look at the degree of damage to the airways through a small scope and to allow suctioning of secretions and debris. Usually it's done through an endotracheal tube (a thin tube with a camera attached) after the person has been given sedation and pain relievers. The procedure may be needed if there is growing respiratory failure, failure to demonstrate clinical improvement, or a segment of the lung remains collapsed.
  • Hyperbaric oxygenation (HBO): If the person has carbon monoxide poisoning, hyperbaric oxygenation may be considered. Hyperbaric oxygenation is a treatment in which the person is given oxygen in a compression chamber. Some studies have shown that hyperbaric oxygenation causes a reduction in symptoms of the nervous system. In cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, it may make recovery quicker. The indications for and availability of this treatment vary depending on the institution and the region in which the person is hospitalized.

Next Steps

Follow-up

Once the person leaves the hospital, follow-up care is typically arranged. If the condition worsens doesn't improve the way it is expected to after discharge, the person should return immediately to the emergency department. 

Medications such as various inhalers and pain medications may be prescribed. There may still be shortness of breath with minimal exertion. It may take time for the lungs to fully heal, and some people may have scarring and shortness of breath for the rest of their lives. It's important to avoid triggering factors such as cigarette smoke.

Persistent hoarseness may occur in people who have sustained burn or smoke inhalation injuries or both. Early attention to these problems, many of which are treatable surgically, behaviorally or both, could lead to an improved voice.

Prevention

Prevention is key when discussing smoke inhalation. Numerous prevention strategies can be employed to avoid exposure to smoke.

  • Smoke detectors should be placed in every room of an occupied building. This should ensure early detection of smoke and allow time for evacuation.
  • Carbon monoxide detectors should be placed in locations at risk for carbon monoxide exposure (such as from near furnaces or garages).
  • Escape routes and plans for how to escape should be worked out before there is a fire and reviewed periodically.
  • Numbers for the police, fire department, and the local poison control center should be kept in a visible place for an emergency. Find the poison control center now by checking the Web site of the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

WebMD Medical Reference from eMedicineHealth

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