Smoke Inhalation

By | June 8, 2022

Not only fires can cause smoke inhalation. If medical help is on the spot early on, smoke poisoning usually has a favorable outcome.

What is smoke inhalation?

Smoke inhalation is usually caused by inhaled toxins found in fire smoke. For the majority of people who experience smoke inhalation, intoxication usually occurs while they are sleeping. For what is hyperbilirubinemia, please visit

One reason for this is that various respiratory toxins in fire smoke are odorless to humans and therefore do not cause those affected to wake up. Most fatalities after fires do not die from burns, but from severe smoke inhalation.

Typical symptoms of smoke poisoning include severe shortness of breath and dizziness. The severe shortness of breath in those affected is often accompanied by a feeling of having to suffocate. Headaches are also a common symptom of smoke inhalation. Occasionally, those affected also experience seizures and/or tachycardia.


Smoke inhalation is most often caused by building fires. However, since it is not the smoke itself that causes smoke poisoning, but rather the respiratory toxins contained in the smoke, such as carbon monoxide (an alternative term for smoke poisoning in medicine is therefore smoke gas poisoning), various other factors can also be responsible for the poisoning.

For example, some smoke inhalations are the result of inhaling large amounts of exhaust gases. Defective boilers or stoves can also be the cause of smoke inhalation.

Serious consequences of smoke inhalation, such as unconsciousness, which can lead to the death of a person affected, are caused in fires, for example, by the respiratory poison cyanide. This respiratory poison is caused, among other things, by the various burning objects.

Inhaled cyanide blocks the functioning of body cells, resulting in a lack of oxygen in the cells. As a result, internal suffocation often occurs.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

The symptoms of smoke inhalation can be varied. The timing of complaints can also vary. This depends on the type and intensity of the gas. Typical signs of smoke inhalation are severe coughing and shortness of breath. In addition, the inhaled substances often cause severe headaches, dizziness and nausea.

The interference from the gases can also cause sweating and muscle cramps. The toxic substances in the smoke can also cause a feeling of drowsiness and confusion. A reddish/bluish discoloration of the skin can also occur as a symptom of smoke gas intoxication. Burns in the neck and face area can also be indications of smoke inhalation.

Signs of smoke poisoning can also be soot particles in the mouth and hair that smells burnt. Classic signs are also difficulty swallowing, strong inner restlessness and recognizable feelings of anxiety. Speaking may require great effort and may be interrupted by coughing up phlegm.

Depending on the pollutant, it can lead to weak limbs and burning pain in the respiratory tract. Burns to the mucous membranes of the respiratory tract are also possible due to the effects of heat. Heart palpitations can occur as a result of smoke inhalation. Smoke inhalation that is noticed late or left untreated can lead to unconsciousness. In the worst case, respiratory arrest occurs.

Diagnosis & History

Since patients with acute smoke inhalation requiring treatment are often unconscious, an emergency diagnosis must usually be made based on the observable condition of a patient. It is not possible for mobile emergency doctors to detect a cyanide concentration in the blood, so that rapid treatment of smoke inhalation is often based on the suspected diagnosis.

The course of smoke inhalation varies between individuals and depends, among other things, on the degree of intoxication and the symptoms that occur. Rapid medical intervention in particular has a positive effect on the course of smoke poisoning:

If such poisoning can be treated early, it is usually accompanied by a good prognosis. However, if medical help is not on site early on, smoke inhalation can be fatal.


Depending on the pollutant inhaled, smoke inhalation can cause various complications. Generally, acute complications such as seizures, palpitations and loss of consciousness occur. In the further course, pulmonary edema develops, which if left untreated can lead to pneumonia and, in extreme cases, to the death of the patient. Long-term effects can also occur as a result of severe poisoning.

If the mucous membranes are damaged, this favors infections and diseases of the immune system. Scarring of the lung tissue impairs blood circulation and can cause, among other things, shortness of breath and damage to the heart. If the damage is severe, shortness of breath occurs even at rest. The shortness of breath often leads to panic attacks and, in the long term, to psychological problems. When treating smoke inhalation, the prescribed medication can cause symptoms.

Cardiopulmonary massage can result in rib or breastbone fractures and liver and spleen injuries. In addition, air or blood can enter the area between the pleura and the lining of the lungs, causing vomiting and aspiration. If blood gets into the pericardium, it can cause a heart attack. There is a small risk of injury and infection of the nasopharynx during ventilation.

When should you go to the doctor?

If dizziness, nausea or unsteady gait occur, there is cause for concern. In the case of smoke inhalation, the ambient air is unclean, which leads to a gradual decrease in internal forces. The lack of oxygen causes those affected to break out in sweats, develop internal heat or feel weak. A doctor is needed when consciousness is clouded, concentration and attention disorders occur, and confusion sets in. Irregularities in memory function, disorientation or states of anxiety are alarm signals from the organism. A doctor must be consulted as immediate action is required. A fear of suffocation often arises, leading to panicky behavior. Vomiting, coughing and shortness of breath are other signs of smoke inhalation.

In case of unconsciousness, an emergency service must be alerted. At the same time, those present are obliged to initiate first aid measures to ensure the survival of the person concerned. Respiratory activity must be supported to avoid further complications. Restrictions in movement, a loss of muscle strength and a scratchy throat also indicate discrepancies. In the event of a headache, general functional disorders or sudden tiredness, the person concerned needs help. A doctor’s visit is necessary to clarify the cause.

Treatment & Therapy

Smoke inhalation requires treatment particularly quickly if the respiratory toxin cyanide is involved, because cyanide affects the body cells comparatively quickly. However, since cyanide involvement cannot be proven in the emergency situation, general emergency medical measures are usually carried out on site first: In the case of smoke inhalation, for example, the patient’s airways are kept free first. The stabilization of the heart and circulation are also among the important immediate measures.

At the same time, a patient is also supplied with sufficient oxygen and liquid. If seizures occur as a result of smoke inhalation, these are also treated by emergency medicine. If, for example, there is a strong suspicion that the victim has smoke inhalation involving cyanide due to various characteristics of the accident site, doctors can administer an antidote.

Such an antidote causes cyanide that has already penetrated the body cells to be neutralized. Thus, the death of suffocation of an affected person can be prevented. The antidote for smoke inhalation is usually administered using an IV. If smoke inhalation has already led to circulatory and/or respiratory arrest, resuscitation measures using cardiopulmonary massage or artificial respiration are necessary. This is often followed by artificial respiration.


Since most smoke inhalation occurs during the night, an effective method of prevention is to equip your home with adequate fire alarms. Appropriate fire detectors trigger an early alarm in the event of a fire. In this way, medical helpers can be on site quickly, which often prevents the serious consequences of smoke inhalation.


Follow-up care for smoke inhalation can be discussed with your family doctor or lung specialist. The aim is to optimize regeneration and to rid the organism of harmful substances in the long term. It is important to fill the lungs and bronchi as well as the nose with fresh air. Walks in natural surroundings are therefore particularly suitable.

On the other hand, those affected should avoid staying in traffic-intensive zones for some time. If you have the time and money to set it up, you can treat your body to a change of air by the sea or in the high mountains, which is ideal for aftercare after smoke inhalation. Conscious breathing and a gently dosed movement can make the aftercare process even more optimal in this context.

Breathing exercises can also be included in aftercare after a severe form of smoke inhalation. These can be learned from a physiotherapist and integrated into home practice. Yoga can also help with breathing regeneration. Pranayama, the breathing exercises that occur in almost every yoga class, often positively regulate the flow of breathing.

It is also important to ensure good air quality in living rooms, bedrooms and offices after smoke inhalation. Regeneration after smoke inhalation is also promoted by drinking a large amount. It serves to transport remaining pollutant particles in the respiratory system or in the rest of the organism more easily on the body.

You can do that yourself

If there is a suspicion that you or someone else has suffered from smoke inhalation, first aid must be given. After the emergency doctor has been alerted, the first responder must open windows and doors to ensure the supply of oxygen. The affected person must be taken out of the dangerous situation and placed calmly.

In the case of mild smoke poisoning, it is important to remain calm or to have a calming effect on the poisoned person. Depending on the cause of the smoke poisoning, the first responders should also find out whether other people are in danger and whether there are any other health risks from escaping gases. If the patient is short of breath, they should be positioned with their upper body elevated. Jackets and tight tops should be loosened. In the event of unconsciousness, life-saving measures such as artificial respiration or cardiopulmonary resuscitation may have to be initiated.

After smoke inhalation, those affected usually feel ill and listless. Rest and rest are important. In addition, no strenuous exercise should be carried out for one or two days. The responsible doctor will usually suggest a further check-up, which should be taken advantage of in order to minimize the health risks. After severe smoke inhalation, the victim has to spend a few days in the hospital. Self-help focuses on working through any trauma or shock and following the doctor’s instructions.

Smoke Inhalation