When most people think of fire-related injuries, they imagine painful, blistered skin burns. However, the primary cause of injury from fires is actually smoke inhalation. The hot gas produced by fire can sear the linings of your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs. This can result in serious injuries and lung damage.
As fires burn, they change their fuel into tiny, superheated particles and hot gases. The gas is typically not oxygen as this acts as a fuel for fire. However, the gas may actually be toxic, depending on the source of the fuel. For instance, if the fire consumes insulation that contains chemicals or toxins, it can release dangerous fumes into the air. Beside the heat of the gas burning your lungs, you may also be exposed to these toxins.
Besides exposure to potentially dangerous toxins, the heat of the smoke itself can cause respiratory damage. Some of the symptoms of smoke inhalation include:
- Cough - sometimes bringing up mucus
- Shortness of breath - due to decreased oxygen absorption ability
- Noisy/hoarse breathing - sign of vocal cord spasms or fluid in the airways
- Reddened or burned eyes
- Headache - due to carbon monoxide exposure
- Mental changes - seizures, fainting, coma, etc.
After someone is pulled from the smoke, they may require CPR in order to keep air flowing into the lungs. Once they are at a medical treatment centre, they will often get oxygen therapy. Additionally, the fire damage can cause respiratory failure or a collapsed lung. Doctors may have to suction out soot and other particles deposited by the smoke. In some cases, smoke inhalation can cause permanent scarring of the lungs, which results in irreversible shortness of breath.