How to deal with smoke inhalation

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Smoke inhalation happens if an individual inhales combustion products during a fire. Combustion is caused by the fast destruction of a substance through heat or burning. Smoke is a mixture of heated particles and gases. The products that are being burned, the temperature of the fire and the amount of oxygen available to the fire makes a difference in the type of smoke that is produced.

Causes of smoke inhalation

  • Simple asphyxiates where the combustion uses up the oxygen near the fire and results to death. The smoke contains products that does not cause harm but take up the space for oxygen such as carbon dioxide.
  • The combustion can cause formation of chemicals that result to direct injury to the skin and mucous membranes. It also disrupts the normal lining of the respiratory tract and cause airway collapse, swelling and respiratory distress.
  • Fire produce compounds that damage the body’s use of oxygen at a cellular level such as hydrogen, cyanide, carbon monoxide, and hydrogen sulfide.
    How to deal with smoke inhalation
    Shortness of breath and rapid breathing to compensate for these injuries.


  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath and rapid breathing to compensate for these injuries
  • Hoarseness or noisy breathing is a sign that fluid accumulates in the upper airways
  • Eyes becomes red and irritated due to smoke
  • The color of the skin ranges from pale to bluish and eventually to cherry red
  • Presence of soot in the nostrils or throat
  • Swollen nostrils and nasal passages
  • Headache, nausea, vomiting and confusion are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning


  • Bring the affected person into an area with fresh air
  • Let him/her sit until feeling better.
  • After coughing, give the person a glass of water to calm a burning throat.
  • Dip a clean washcloth in cool water, wring out excess water and place it over the eyes and forehead of the affected person.
  • If the person has difficulty breathing, perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation or CPR.
  • If the person is lying on the cold ground, cover him/her with a blanket.
  • Loosen clothes or anything around the neck and torso to prevent difficulties in breathing.
  • Let the affected person lay on his/her back and place a pillow behind the head if having difficulties with breathing or another alternative is elevating the legs and feet using a couple of pillows above the level of the heart to prevent shock.
  • If unconscious, turn the head of the person to his/her side to prevent choking due to the vomit.


  • Install smoke detectors in every room of occupied buildings to ensure early detection of smoke.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in areas where there is a risk of exposure to carbon monoxide such as gas water heaters, malfunctioning furnaces, kerosene space heaters, propane heaters and stoves, boats with gasoline engines and gasoline or diesel generators.

More Information

The details posted on this page on smoke inhalation is for learning purposes only. To learn to recognize and manage breathing emergencies including smoke inhalation, enroll in a first aid course with one of our training providers.

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The information posted on this page is for educational purposes only.
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