What are the possible complications of smoke inhalation injury?

Updated: Oct 15, 2021
  • Author: Keith A Lafferty, MD; Chief Editor: Joe Alcock, MD, MS  more...
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Complications may include the following:

Bacterial pneumonia often complicates inhalation injury within 4-5 days of presentation. This additional cellular damage can cause significant mortality days to weeks after the initial injury.

Exacerbation of pre-existing respiratory disease (eg, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is a potential sequela. [33] A study of firefighters showed certain subgroups to have an exaggerated decline in postexposure forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) that was not predicted by age, smoking history, intensity of exposure, or the use of self-contained breathing apparatus. [34] Some of these patients, who had no family history of reactive airway disease, went on to need long-term beta-agonist therapy. Exposures to some smokes, such as isocyanates, can cause asthma in people with no history of the disease.

Airway hyperreactivity generally improves over several months following inhalation injury. However, some authors documented long-term respiratory symptoms such as cough, wheeze, and shortness of breath even after mild inhalation injury. The long-term effects of inhaled toxins on pulmonary function are not yet determined.

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