Smoke inhalation is the leading cause of death due to fires. It produces injury through several mechanisms, including heat (thermal) injury to the upper airway, irritation or chemical injury to the airways from soot, asphyxiation, and toxicity from carbon monoxide (CO) and other gases such as cyanide.(1)

Common Types of Inhalation Injuries

One of the scariest types of injuries to experience are inhalation injuries associated with a fire, that may contain more than one hundred known toxic substances. When inhaled, these toxic substances are felt by the body immediately.

Your nasal passage and airways feel like dust is being breathed in. Combined with external burns, smoke inhalation injuries increase the chance of death because in addition to dealing with burns, the smoke inhalation victim may also experience respiratory failure.

There are three main types of inhalation injuries. They are heat inhalation, smoke inhalation, and systemic toxins. Each one is reviewed below.

Heat Inhalation

Lung burn is caused when you breathe in hot air (heat inhalation.) The mucous membrane is damaged when hot air enters through the nose.

Lung injury resulting from inhalation of smoke or chemical products of combustion continues to be associated with significant morbidity and mortality. Combined with cutaneous burns, inhalation injury increases fluid resuscitation requirements, incidence of pulmonary complications and overall mortality of thermal injury.(2)

Systematic Toxins

When smoke and air that contains a toxin is breathed in, a smoke inhalation victim may be found unconscious or disoriented. A common systematic toxin present in all fires is carbon monoxide, an odorless and colorless toxic gas that may cause brain damage or death if emergency services are not offered immediately upon rescuing the smoke inhalation victim.

Smoke Inhalation

While attempting to escape a file an inhalation victim may breathe in smoke along with oxygen as the normal breathing cycle of bodies. Whether you breathe through the mouth or nose, smoke inhalation injuries are the leading cause of death in fires. Some symptoms manifest themselves two hours after inhaling smoke, others may take up to 48 hours to appear.

If you or a family member inhaled smoke during a fire pay attention to the following signs that indicate smoke inhalation injuries.

  • Fainting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Soot around the mouth or neck
  • Burns around the face or neck
  • Burned nasal hairs, eyebrows or eyelashes

Three Ways to Keep Safe During a Fire

  • If you are trapped in a place where a fire is occurring, try to keep the air as clean as possible. Keep your windows and doors closed.
  • Turn on the air conditioner if possible and close the fresh air intake and filter clean to avoid additional smoke from entering the confined space.
  • Place a banana or scarf around your nose and mouth or use a protective mask.

Injured by Smoke Inhalation in Massachusetts?

If you or a loved one has been injured or killed in a smoke inhalation accident, then call the smoke inhalation and respiratory failure lawyers at The Law Offices of Gerald J. Noonan today. We have a proven track record with over 35 years of legal experience.

No matter where you are located, we are just a phone call away. Call our law offices today to schedule a free no-obligation case review and consultation at (508) 588-0422 or click the link below to use our Free Case Evaluation Form.

Our personal injury lawyers assist fire accident victims throughout all of Massachusetts including but not limited to Plymouth County, Brockton, Plymouth, Bridgewater, Marshfield, Hingham, Duxbury, Wareham, Abington, Rockland, Whitman, Hanson, Holbrook, Middleborough; Norfolk County including Quincy, Stoughton, Dedham, Weymouth, Braintree, Avon, Holbrook, Randolph, Canton, Sharon, Brookline, Franklin; Bristol County including New Bedford, Fall River, Taunton, Attleboro, Mansfield, Easton, Raynham, Lakeville, Norton; Cape Cod, Hyannis, Falmouth, Barnstable, Worcester, Springfield, Holyoke, and the Greater Boston area including Cambridge, Somerville, Medford, Everett, Lawrence, Lynn, Revere, Dorchester, Roxbury.


  1. Medscape Smoke Inhalation Injury, Keith A. Lafferty, M.D.
  2. Inhalation Injury: Epidemiology, Pathology, Treatment Strategies, US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, April 19, 2013.