Critical review of research, literature review, critical commentary
Place of publication
Melbourne, Vic., Australia
Australasian Academy of Critical Care Medicine
Pulmonary injury from smoke inhalation is common in burn victims, significantly contributing to the morbidity and mortality of fire-related injuries. The impacts of improvement in other aspects of burn care have not been mirrored in treatment of smoke inhalation. Smoke is heterogeneous and unique to each fire; it comprises particulates, respiratory irritants and systemic toxins as well as heat, all contributing to the pathological insult. Thermal injury below the vocal cords is rare because of effective heat dissipation in the upper airway. Particulate matter is the chief contributor to the pathophysiology of smoke inhalation injury, which has been extensively described. Of paramount importance is the cascade of inflammatory mediators following interaction of irritant substances with lung parenchyma, leading to pulmonary oedema, cast formation, airway obstruction, loss of hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and ventilation/perfusion mismatch. Current treatment is based on supportive care, with airway management, mechanical ventilation, humidification and aggressive airway toilet the mainstays. Nebulisation of n2-agonists, heparin and N-acetylcysteine have a role in management, as does more specific treatment of carbon monoxide or cyanide intoxication. Many promising treatments are currently under investigation. The therapeutic strategy of decontaminating the lungs early after smoke exposure to prevent inhalation injury has received little attention and may be of significant value. This could potentially utilise amphoteric, hypertonic chelating agents developed for topical and ocular chemical exposures.