One of the biggest dangers, when a fire breaks out, is not the heat of the flames but the smoke that is produced. According to Government statistics, in 2016/17, of 261 fatalities in fires during this period 100 were due to being overcome by smoke.
The Effects of Smoke Inhalation
Smoke contains not only carbon monoxide but tiny particles or soot, as well as harmful chemicals depending on what material has caught fire. Vulnerable groups such as the elderly, young and those with conditions such as asthma can all be affected more severely by a brief exposure to smoke inhalation. Even for healthy individuals, however, exposure to smoke can cause significant impairment and damage in a short space of time.
Timeline for Smoke Inhalation
A lot depends on the speed with which a fire spreads and how much smoke is produced as well as how long you are exposed to it. Just a few minutes of smoke inhalation is enough to cause coughing and drowsiness. There are three main ways that smoke can have an effect – heat damage from breathing in hot smoke, irritation to the tissues such as the nasal area and throat and lack of oxygen.
- If you are trapped in a room full of smoke it can take between 2 and 10 minutes for you to lose consciousness because of lack of oxygen.
- 5 to 10 minutes of exposure may well be enough to cause you significant brain damage.
- 15 minutes of exposure, where the level of oxygen falls to zero is fatal.
Initial effects of just a brief exposure to heavy smoke can cause hoarseness, shortness of breath and coughing. Your eyes are likely to become reddened and soot can gather in your nostrils causing swelling.
Longer exposure can lead to damage to the skin because of the heat of the smoke as well as the respiratory tract when you inhale. Smoke can contain a wide range of irritants that are likely to inflame internal organs such as the lungs, including ammonia and sulphur dioxide. Fires produce toxic substances such as hydrogen cyanide that prevent your blood cells from taking oxygen and delivering it around your body.
Exposure to carbon monoxide will cause headaches and nausea and someone who has been caught in a fire may appear disorientated very quickly. Heading out into fresh air and escaping the smoke doesn’t mean that the person affected doesn’t need medical attention. They will undoubtedly need to be treated for smoke inhalation injury and their breathing, airways and blood circulation monitored closely.
Anyone who has been subjected to smoke inhalation should be taken to hospital where chest x-rays, tests for oxygen in the blood and medical treatment will be needed. The first job for a paramedic on the scene will be to get enough oxygen back into the patient’s lungs before transporting to hospital.
The Benefits of Installing a Smoke Alarm
We all know that evacuating, in the event of a fire, as quickly as possible is vital. Many deaths happen because a fire breaks out at night when people are asleep and begin inhaling smoke without realising. Installing a fire alarm in your property is a vital early warning system that should hopefully give you enough time to get everyone out and to safety. The same goes for a business environment, a fire in an unpopulated area can quickly spread and with the complexities of evacuating a highly populated business premises, every second counts, so give yourself time, install smoke alarms!
Until next time… Stay Safe!