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fire Safety

Smoke and Lungs: An Unhealthy Mix

Inhaling smoke is the number one cause of health injuries due to fires. More than 50 percent of fatalities from fire disasters are due to smoke inhalation instead of burns. 

The smoke from fires is composed of heated particles and gases from the objects inside the property being burned. Sources of fire smoke can range from burning structures, forests, brush, and crops to tires, plastics, wastes, fabrics, or wood. When the smoke containing the particles and gases from these items is inhaled into the body, it becomes very dangerous to your health, especially your lungs.

Fire smoke is especially dangerous for certain people:

  • People with an existing heart or lung disease condition, including angina, congestive heart failure, emphysema or asthma
  • Older adults
  • Children

To recognize the signs of dangerous smoke inhalation, look for these symptoms:

Shortness of breath

Inhaling smoke can damage the respiratory tract making it difficult to inhale and breathe properly. This may decrease the amount of oxygen delivered to the blood or prohibit the body’s cells from properly using the oxygen due to the chemicals from smoke.


Irritation of the respiratory tract may cause the body to produce mucous which causes reflex coughing. The mucous coughed up can be black from the fire soot or clear depending on the particles inhaled from the fire smoke. 


The irritants in the smoke can irritate the vocal cords or cause swelling or constriction of the airways. The mucous collecting in the airway can also cause blockages that cause a gruff, scratchiness to your voice.


Exposure to the carbon monoxide in fire smoke triggers headaches in most people. Carbon monoxide poisoning is serious and should be treated promptly. The common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, nausea, vomiting, or confusion.

Eye, Nose and Skin Irritation

Smoke irritates the eyes and causes them to turn red or become irritated. In some cases, the heat and smoke from the fire can result in burns to the cornea. The nostrils and nasal passages may swell or have black soot in them depending on the amount of smoke inhaled. Skin color may also change to red or bluish color after exposure to fire smoke.

Mental confusion

Lower levels of oxygen to the brain can often result in times of confusion or fainting. In serious cases, it can also trigger seizures and other potential complications.

Aggravated existing health conditions

Smoke inhalation can aggravate preexisting health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, or lung disease. Studies show that some people without existing lung conditions who are exposed to heavy smoke may have temporary changes in lung function, causing difficulty in breathing.

To help prevent the amount of smoke inhaled during a fire, consider these helpful tips:

  • Escape the burning structure as safely and quickly as possible. Fire spreads quickly so you have a matter of seconds to make your escape. Have a fire escape planned beforehand so you and everyone in the building knows what to do.
  • Lower to the ground inside a burning structure and crawl to escape the fire. Smoke and gases collect near the ceiling first so staying low underneath the majority of the smoke can help.
  • Grab a towel, shirt, wet rag, or mask if possible to filter the air you are breathing. If you don’t have something to filter the air, cover your mouth and nose as you walk through smoky areas.
  • If you see smoke coming in around a door, leave it closed and use a second escape route if possible.
  • Pay attention to our local air quality reports if there is a fire in your area. Listen to any warnings and advisories to stay indoors if high levels are smoke are present. Avoid opening windows and doors as much as possible and filter your inside air.

If you have been exposed to smoke inhalation:

First, remove yourself and others from the scene of the fire to avoid further smoke inhalation. Then, watch for the signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation effects. Hoarse voice, trouble breathing, excessive coughing, and mental confusion are all signs you need to seek medical attention. It’s much better to be checked out by a medical professional than to risk the smoke inhalation effects worsening. Call for immediate help if someone needs it.

When a fire disaster invades your home, your property, your belongings, and your family, you want to know that everything will be okay.  The professionals at Rainbow Restoration® understand what property owners are going through, and are there to help professional, reliable fire and smoke restoration services when you need it most.

Other Related Blog Posts:

How to Prepare a Fire Emergency Kit

Fire Explained: What is it and How Does it Spread?

5 Action Steps to Take After a Fire

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