The inhalation of gases (such as carbon monoxide), smoke, or toxic vapors can lead to lethal consequences. These gases can impair effective gas exchange which can lead to low levels of oxygen in the body. Therefore, the individual requires urgent medical attention. Do not attempt to initiate rescue if it will put your life at risk. Gases or fumes that have been contained in a confined space can quickly cause problems, especially if the person does not wear proper protective equipment.
Smoke inhalation most commonly result from fire. In fact, all individuals who have been in an enclosed space during a fire are assumed to have inhaled smoke. Smoke from burning wood material, foam padding, synthetic wall coverings, and plastic materials are likely to produce poisonous fumes.
Inhalation of carbon monoxide
Similarly, burning can produce carbon monoxide – a potentially poisonous gas. Carbon monoxide acts directly on the red blood cells, interfering with its oxygen-carrying capacity and therefore affecting oxygenation of body tissues. If inhaled in large quantities, such as due to vehicle exhaust fumes or smoke in an enclosed space, it can quickly lead to fatal consequences. However, prolonged exposure even to a small amount of carbon dioxide such as due to a leakage of fumes from a defective heater or duct may lead to severe or life-threatening consequences.
Take note that carbon monoxide is an odorless gas so it may be difficult to detect its presence.
First aid measures
In case of smoke or toxic gas inhalation, the goal of first aid is to restore adequate breathing. If you suspect gas inhalation, seek medical attention and activate emergency services. If the victim is in a contained space and you suspect toxic gases, open the doors wide and let the gas escape before finally entering.
Here are actions you should take when responding in fire:
- Ask the help of fire and emergency medical services.
- If the victim’s clothing is still burning, extinguish the fire.
- If the victim is unconscious, open the airway and check for breathing.
- If the victim is not breathing, initiate rescue breathing and chest compressions.
- If the victim resumes breathing, place him/her in the recovery position.
- If there is the risk of fire or explosion, or it is necessary to move away from the source of fumes, transfer the victim into a place of safety.
- Provide encouragement and support.
- Check for other injuries and treat any obvious burns.
- Stay with the victim until help arrives.
If possible, conditions that cause accumulation of carbon monoxide in closed
spaces should be eliminated, for example, turn off gas cylinder or main supply of gas piping. Open all windows and doors to let fresh air in. Continue monitoring the victim for signs of respiratory arrest, in such case, initiate artificial ventilation and resuscitation.
Never enter into a confined space or room with carbon dioxide. Also, if you smell flammable gases, be careful not to open electrical devices.