Fire accidents have caused many to lose their life, property and livelihood; many organizations have now worked towards implementing safety measures when such accidents occur. However, the fact that smoke can also be life-threatening is ignored often even though smoke inhalation is the primary cause of death in victims of indoor fires. During fire accidents, those who do not get out on time risk getting suffocated by inhaling smoke which causes them to lose their conscience or injured internally due to the excessive heat produced by smoke.

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Let us first understand what exactly smoke is? And how does it affect us?

According to science, smoke occurs when there is incomplete combustion (not enough oxygen to burn the fuel completely).Incomplete combustion also lead to the release of gases and toxic chemicals such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, including aldehydes, acid gases, sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), benzene, toluene, styrene, metals and dioxins.

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How smoke affects us?

  • When smoke get mixed with the air it forms smog that leads to polluting the air that we breathe in.
  • While most of us focus on fire when there is an accident, the silent killer is smoke as we inhale the toxic chemicals that are released.
  • Breathing the products of combustion during a fire reduces the intake of oxygen which causes respiratory diseases.
  • The effects of smoke are more than short term. It not only affects people in the nearby vicinity but also goes up in the air and comes down in the form of acid rain that causes various illnesses.
  • Smoke from fire has poisonous gas in it that can be lethal.
  • Aside from being dangerous for the lungs, substances found in smoke can burn the skin, injure the airway, irritate the eyes, and even cause death.

Smoke from firewood can injure the major organs of the body (eg:  Heart and lungs)

During the season of Diwali, there is a significant rise in air pollution, which aggravates the suffering of people having respiratory diseases. Since there are no immediate symptoms or injuries that occur when smoke is inhaled by normal people it is often treated lightly and later results in serious respiratory-related issues.

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Measures to protect yourself:

  • Smoke cannot be contained during a fire, but the knowledge about what not to burn can help reduce air pollution in a big way. Ex: Hydrogen cyanide results from the burning of plastics which interferes with cellular respiration.
  • Wearing a facemask during Diwali while bursting crackers can help to a certain level from inhaling poisonous gases.
  • Avoid cooking on firewood.
  • If caught in a room filled with smoke, stay low as possible
  • Smoke from the fire can be very hot, which can suffocate and cause disorientation while attempting to rescue a person.It is advisable to wear protective clothing while helping the victims

Symptoms and First aid tips

A person affected by smoke is usually found

  • Unconscious, dizzy or confused
  • Has chest pain or tightness
  • Is coughing or choking violently
  • Has wheezing, shortness of breath or irregular breathing
  • Has ash or smoke around mouth and nose
  • Has burns inside mouth, throat, and nose
  • Have swollen airways
  • Has black or grey saliva
  • Is nauseated or vomiting
  • Has double or blurry vision
  • Has numbness or tingling in his or her extremities

There is not much treatment available when a person is affected by smoke. However,

  • Move the person into fresh air if you can do so safely.
  • Make the person sit or lay the person down. If the person is vomiting or coughing up sputum then don’t rest the person on the back

Call an ambulatory service ASAP.

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