First aid

27 January 2010

Smoke inhalation

Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death related to fires. Follow these steps if you are assisting someone.


Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death related to fires. It damages the body as a result of lack of oxygen and chemical irritation.

Symptoms include hoarseness, coughing, noisy breathing, black or grey spittle, and fluid in the lungs. Lack of oxygen is evident from shortness of breath and blue-grey or cherry-red skin colour. The person may be unconscious or may stop breathing. There may also be burns around and inside the nose and mouth, singed nasal hairs and internal swelling of the throat.

Home treatment

  • Get the person into fresh air immediately.
  • The person should rest while taking deep breaths.

Call your doctor if:

  • There are any signs of wheezing, trouble breathing, a continuous cough, an upset stomach or vomiting. The person will need oxygen as soon as possible.
  • The person develops a high temperature and/or becomes confused, irritable or unusually sleepy.

Read more: Learn CPR
Visual: CPR - Clearing the airways
Visual: CPR - Breathing technique
Visual: CPR - Location of lower breastbone
Visual: CPR - Chest compression - Health24, updated November 2009


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