One of the most serious complications some burn victims face is airway or lung damage, such as an airway burn or smoke inhalation. Respiratory damage is associated with high morbidity and mortality rates among burn patients. In fact, respiratory failure is the most common cause of death in burn centers, according to the medical journal Eplasty. Lung and airway damage can accompany an exterior burn to the face or chest, or it can just be the result of inhaling hot fumes.
What kinds of burn-related damage can occur to the lungs and airways?
Burn-related damage to the respiratory system can occur in several ways. Inhaled heat from a fire or other source can cause thermal damage inside the body. The throat, esophagus, and lungs can sustain damage from the heat and become clogged by soot. Thermal damage is usually limited to the throat area, although explosions and steam may cause the heat to travel further down within the body and damage the lungs.
Smoke inhalation and smoke poisoning – not external burn injuries – are the primary cause of fire-related deaths, according to Medscape. It causes thermal injuries in the body, asphyxiation, and toxicity.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is one of the leading sources of toxicity inhalation injuries people sustain that, among other effects, can damage the respiratory system. Similarly, the lungs and airways can sustain damage when materials such as plastics, polyurethane, wool, nylon, silk, and rubber combust, produce cyanide, and victims breathe it in. The effects of inhaling a dangerous chemical can spread throughout the body if it reaches the lungs and absorbs into the bloodstream.
The effects and complications that patients with inhalation injuries can suffer include:
- Edema of the airways and lungs
- Adult respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Respiratory failure
- Permanent damage to the lungs
How do doctors treat inhalation injuries?
Treating inhalation injuries in burn patients is particularly challenging. Sometimes, the patient will seem relatively unscathed on the outside, yet have serious, life-threatening damage to the lungs. Plus, it can take hours for symptoms to manifest.
If you suspect someone has sustained inhalation injuries, call 9-1-1 immediately. Doctors will assess the victim’s airways, breathing, and circulation; monitor heart rate; and administer oxygen if need be.
“Most inhalation injuries are self-limited and resolve within 48 to 72 hours,” according to Medscape. The treatments for damage to the respiratory system depend on the source, nature, and extent of the damage. Some treatments doctors may use in serious cases include the following:
- Intubation (if edema is setting in or there is a lot of soot)
- Mechanical ventilation
- Fluid resuscitation
- Prophylactic antibiotics
- Amyl and sodium nitrite (for cyanide poisoning)
Is there anything else I should know about burn inhalation injuries?
All patients with suspected inhalation injuries need medical attention, hospitalization, and careful monitoring. The outcomes for victims may improve with early intervention, so it is vital to act swiftly and get help after an accident.
Patients should also realize that burn and inhalation injuries may bring with them significant medical bills, lost wages while recovering, potential disability, and more. That’s not mentioning the psychological and emotional effects.
It may be important to determine the root causes of the accident. If you or your loved one sustained burn injuries from a chemical, fire, explosion, or other incident that was caused by another party’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. This is especially true in the case of facial or chest burns or third-degree and fourth-degree burns.
To speak with a lawyer referral specialist about finding a lawyer to help you with your case, call us today at 844-549-8774.