What causes smoke inhalation injury?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021
  • Author: Keith A Lafferty, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Most often, inhalation injury results from direct damage to exposed epithelial surfaces and causes conjunctivitis, corneal edema, rhinitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis, tracheitis, bronchitis, bronchiolitis, and alveolitis. Systemic absorption of toxins also occurs. Ascertaining if respiratory insufficiency is due to direct pulmonary injury or is the result of the extensive metabolic, hemodynamic, and subsequent infectious complications of surface burns is difficult.

Inhalants are classified as irritants, asphyxiants, or systemic toxins. Irritants cause extensive cell injury within the respiratory tract. Systemic toxins are absorbed through the respiratory tract and go on to damage other organ systems. Toxic gases are liberated during the combustion of various substances, as listed in the table below.

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