Smoke inhalation damages body

  • Smoke inhalation damages the body by simple asphyxiation (lack of oxygen), chemical irritation, chemical asphyxiation, or a combination of these.
  • Simple asphyxiants
    • Combustion can simply use up the oxygen near the fire and lead to death when there is no oxygen for a person to breathe.
    • Smoke itself can contain products that do not cause direct harm to a person, but they take up the space that is needed for oxygen. Carbon dioxide acts in this way.
  • Irritant compounds
    • Combustion can result in the formation of chemicals that cause direct injury when they contact the skin and mucous membranes.
    • These substances disrupt the normal lining of the respiratory tract. This disruption can potentially cause swelling, airway collapse, and respiratory distress.
    • Examples of chemical irritants found in smoke include sulfur dioxide, ammonia, hydrogen chloride, and chlorine.
  • Chemical asphyxiants
    • A fire can produce compounds that do damage by interfering with the body’s oxygen use at a cellular level.
    • Carbon monoxide, hydrogen cyanide, and hydrogen sulfide are all examples of chemicals produced in fires that interfere with the use of oxygen by the cell during the production of energy.
    • If either the delivery of oxygen or the use of oxygen is inhibited, cells will die.
    • Carbon monoxide poisoning has been found to be the leading cause of death in smoke inhalation.
  • Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/8/2014
  • Medical Author:¬†Christopher P Holstege, MD