Smoke inhalation

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kelliewallace

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I have a secondary character who is pulled from her burning house. Electrical fire. She was unconscious when found. How long would one be in hospital for smoke inhalation? I read for minor cases it can be 4-6 hrs in the ED. I assume the character will have to be monitored. She's an older lady.
 

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I have a secondary character who is pulled from her burning house. Electrical fire. She was unconscious when found. How long would one be in hospital for smoke inhalation? I read for minor cases it can be 4-6 hrs in the ED. I assume the character will have to be monitored. She's an older lady.
It'll depend a lot on her specific circumstances. You can tailor them to suit your story's needs. (I am assuming she's unconscious because of the fire, not because she got electrocuted. If this is an electrocution story, ignore the following.)

Fire uses up oxygen, so the lack of oxygen for a long enough period will cause unconsciousness because the brain needs oxygen delivered constantly by the blood. To counteract this, the EMTs will deliver oxygen via a face mask. But she may need further treatment -- a tracheal tube or a ventilator -- if the problem is anything more than brief oxygen deprivation.

If she's breathed in carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide, those can block oxygen binding to the haemoglobin in the red blood cells and make it more difficult to treat her.

In a fire, the smoke is at high temperature, and just breathing in that very hot smoke (especially if it's in the form of steam) can scald the airways and cause tissue damage. If the house fire also released a lot of chemicals (burning plastics etc) the chemical irritants such as chlorine, hydrogen chloride, ammonia, etc can strip the respiratory tract lining and cause swelling, breathing distress, collapse of the airways. That'll take longer to heal, but they also often take longer to become symptomatic, so they may well want to admit her to hospital and observe her for 48 hours with extra testing before release.

If she's passed out and had to be pulled from a burning house, she's also like to have burn injuries. Those can range from minor to major to untreatable.
 

ChaseJxyz

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Not having oxygen for any length of time is going to Cause Problems. Your brain needs that, and your brain being damaged is going to be very difficult to deal with. Your heart might also stop beating, which is the thing that moves stuff like oxygen around your body.

But really, she can be in the hospital for as long as you need her to for the plot, since there's so many other factors or things that can go wrong to keep her in the hospital.
 

kelliewallace

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Not having oxygen for any length of time is going to Cause Problems. Your brain needs that, and your brain being damaged is going to be very difficult to deal with. Your heart might also stop beating, which is the thing that moves stuff like oxygen around your body.

But really, she can be in the hospital for as long as you need her to for the plot, since there's so many other factors or things that can go wrong to keep her in the hospital.
Great. Thank you!
 

MaeZe

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It'll depend a lot on her specific circumstances. You can tailor them to suit your story's needs. (I am assuming she's unconscious because of the fire, not because she got electrocuted. If this is an electrocution story, ignore the following.)

Fire uses up oxygen, so the lack of oxygen for a long enough period will cause unconsciousness because the brain needs oxygen delivered constantly by the blood. To counteract this, the EMTs will deliver oxygen via a face mask. But she may need further treatment -- a tracheal tube or a ventilator -- if the problem is anything more than brief oxygen deprivation.

If she's breathed in carbon monoxide or hydrogen sulfide, those can block oxygen binding to the haemoglobin in the red blood cells and make it more difficult to treat her.

In a fire, the smoke is at high temperature, and just breathing in that very hot smoke (especially if it's in the form of steam) can scald the airways and cause tissue damage. If the house fire also released a lot of chemicals (burning plastics etc) the chemical irritants such as chlorine, hydrogen chloride, ammonia, etc can strip the respiratory tract lining and cause swelling, breathing distress, collapse of the airways. That'll take longer to heal, but they also often take longer to become symptomatic, so they may well want to admit her to hospital and observe her for 48 hours with extra testing before release.

If she's passed out and had to be pulled from a burning house, she's also like to have burn injuries. Those can range from minor to major to untreatable.
All of those things ^. Not everyone realizes the different kinds of damage inhaling smoke in a fire does.

This is one of those things in a story you can make the damage more serious or less serious depending on what you story calls for.
 
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Catriona Grace

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Smoke inhalation was my fate once while I was working on a wildland fire crew forty-odd years ago. (Wrong place at the wrong time, but fortunately survived to tell the tale.) I never went to the hospital, but it affected my breathing and stamina for a good week or so. Tri-weekly aerobic classes were a challenge, to say the least.
 

Al X.

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FYI, the majority of fatalities in structure fires are the result of smoke inhalation, and not the fire itself.
 

lonestarlibrarian

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One of my friends lost his teen that way. He'd locked his bedroom door to keep his brothers out. They had an electrical fire. One of the kids alerted the household, but the teenager passed out from smoke inhalation before he could open his door to escape. By the time they were able to break down his door, he was already gone. I don't know if it was because the fire used up the oxygen in the room, or if he was unconscious and couldn't escape from the heat, or if it was the smoke inhalation itself. I never asked, and no one ever said.

But I would expect that kind of a scenario to result in significant physical damage, especially to an older woman, unless there's some sort of mitigating circumstance in play that protects her long enough for help to whisk her away to safety. But it's genuinely the kind of thing that can kill you very, very quickly, and if it doesn't, it can leave you damaged for a very long time. A house fire is one of the scariest things I can think of.
 

Catriona Grace

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A moment to brag about my son, a fire fighter. He was recently recommended for special recognition for going into a burning house to bring someone out at significant risk to his own life. I found out about it by accident since he didn't see fit to mention it. Said it was just his job.