Inhalation injuries are acute injuries to your respiratory system and lungs. They can happen if you breathe in toxic substances, such as smoke (from fires), chemicals, particle pollution, and gases. Inhalation injuries can also be caused by extreme heat; these are a type of thermal injuries. Over half of deaths from fires are due to inhalation injuries.
Symptoms of inhalation injuries can depend on what you breathed in. But they often include:
- Coughing and phlegm
- A scratchy throat
- Irritated sinuses
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain or tightness
- Stinging eyes
- A runny nose
If you have a chronic heart or lung problem, an inhalation injury can make it worse.
To make a diagnosis, your health care provider may use a scope to look at your airways and check for damage. Other possible tests include imaging tests of the lungs, blood tests, and lung function tests.
If you have an inhalation injury, your health care provider will make sure that your airway is not blocked. Treatment is with oxygen therapy, and in some cases, medicines. Some patients need to use a ventilator to breathe. Most people get better, but some people have permanent lung or breathing problems. Smokers and people who had a severe injury are at a greater risk of having permanent problems.
You can take steps to try to prevent inhalation injuries:
- At home, practice fire safety, which includes preventing fires and having a plan in case there is a fire
- If there is smoke from a wildfire nearby or lots of particulate pollution in the air, try to limit your time outdoors. Keep your indoor air as clean as possible, by keeping windows closed and using an air filter. If you have asthma, another lung disease, or heart disease, follow your health care provider's advice about your medicines and respiratory management plan.
- If you are working with chemicals or gases, handle them safely and use protective equipment
- How to Properly Put On, Take Off a Disposable Respirator (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) - PDF Also in Spanish
- Inhalation Injuries (Burn Institute) - PDF
- Lung problems and volcanic smog (Medical Encyclopedia) Also in Spanish
- Particle Pollution (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)
- Wildfires: Information for Parents (American Academy of Pediatrics) Also in Spanish