Smoke inhalation is any injury caused by inhaling the by-products of combustion, such as soot, carbon monoxide and cyanide. In most cases where a person is killed or badly injured by fire, it is more likely the smoke inhalation and not burns that was the major medical cause of death. The condition usually involves a combination of trauma to the lungs, inflammation in response to the irritation, and toxicity
Exposure to smoke to the extent it causes these symptoms or associated sleepiness and confusion is a medical emergency that requires immediate attention. A respirator may still be necessary even if the person is conscious, responsive and alert at the time of evaluation. Physicians will look for signs of secondary damage such as burned nostril hair or burned sputem that could be an indication of further underlying damage.
Treatment is generally supportive. It should be assumed that the patient has been exposed to carbon monoxide. Humidified oxygen is usually administered. Bronchodilators and suction may be used to keep the airways clear as fluids will often congregate around the damaged and inflamed tissue. An inhaled mixture of heparin and acetylcysteine to avoid the formation of clots and mucus is usually administered for a seven day period.