Breathing Smoke or Fumes

Topic Overview

It is common to cough for a few minutes after breathing in smoke or fumes from a fire. Your breathing should return to normal within a short period of time, about 30 minutes. If your breathing does not return to normal or if your breathing is getting worse instead of improving, it is important to think about whether you are having breathing difficulties because of smoke inhalation.

Smoke inhalation may occur in any fire. It is more likely to occur if you:

  • Were trapped in an enclosed space with smoke and fumes.
  • Have soot around your nose or mouth.
  • Have facial burns.
  • Have singed nasal hairs.
  • Have breathed in smoke from burning man-made materials.

Symptoms of smoke inhalation include:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Noisy breathing.
  • Wheezing.
  • Hoarse voice, trouble speaking, or inability to speak in full sentences.
  • Cough.
  • Dark-colored mucus from the nose or mouth.
  • Change in mental state, such as restlessness, agitation, confusion, or sleepiness (lethargy).

More serious smoke inhalation causes swelling (edema) in the air passages. This swelling can also hurt the vocal cords, making it hard for the person to talk. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious concern with smoke inhalation injuries.

If smoke inhalation causes serious symptoms, or if you have any high-risk conditions such as asthma or chronic lung disease, evaluation by a doctor is needed.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
William H. Blahd, Jr., MD, FACEP - Emergency Medicine
H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Last Revised December 27, 2012

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