Smoke Inhalation

Smoke contains carbon monoxide and other chemicals that irritate the eyes, nose, throat and lungs. During a serious fire, these gases can be extremely hot and burn the inside of the mouth and lungs. A household or industrial fire can sometimes also produce deadly cyanide. But a major concern with most fires is carbon monoxide.

Carbon monoxide poisoning keeps oxygen from getting to the vital organs of the body. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue and sleepiness

  • Headache

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

  • Fainting

  • Shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Irritability

  • Confusion

  • Convulsions (seizures)

In severe cases, there may be delayed effects that appear a few days to a few weeks after you are exposed. These may include:

  • Memory loss

  • Personality changes

  • Tremors

The best treatment for mild carbon monoxide exposure is to leave the affected area and breathe plenty of fresh air. More severe cases require treatment with oxygen for several hours. In some cases, you may be placed in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. This involves breathing 100% oxygen in a pressurized body chamber.

The irritant effects of other chemicals in the smoke usually go away within 1 to 24 hours. Sometimes a pneumonia-like illness can develop after smoke inhalation.

Home care

  • Breathe fresh air for the next few hours. Avoid closed spaces with poor airflow.

  • Rest until you are feeling fully back to normal again. This may take 24 hours.

  • During the next 24 hours, don't smoke cigarettes. Stay away from others who smoke. Cigarette smoke is a source of carbon monoxide.

  • Make sure that you have working smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. 

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away for any of the following:

  • Not feeling back to normal within 24 hours

  • Fever of 100.4ºF (38ºC) or higher, or as directed by your healthcare provider

  • Cough with lots of sputum

  • Headache, dizziness, fainting

Call 911

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • Shortness of breath that gets worse

  • Chest pain

  • Confusion or drowsiness

  • Convulsions (seizures)

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