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Inhalation injury in the ICU 

Inhalation injury in the ICU
Inhalation injury in the ICU

Silvia Coppola

and Franco Valenza

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date: 19 February 2020

Inhalation injury represents one of the most serious associated injuries complicating the care of thermally-injured patient. It can result in severe respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) by three mechanisms—thermal or chemical injury, and impairment of systemic oxygen supply. Thermal injury can cause erythema, ulceration, and progressive, life-threatening oedema, particularly of the upper airways. Chemical injury is due to irritants or cytotoxic compounds, and depends on the material burned, the temperature of the fire, and the amount of oxygen present in the fire environment. It is responsible for irritation, ulceration, and oedema of the mucosal surface, and the initiation of a lung inflammatory reaction when small particles reach the alveoli. Moreover, the increased vascular permeability, and the reduced surfactant production carry a significant risk in the development of pneumonia and ARDS. Bronchospasm and upper airway oedema can occur rapidly, while lower airway oedema can be asymptomatic for up to 24 hours. Lung imaging techniques may not reveal injured areas for the first 24–48 hours. Fibre optic bronchoscopy is considered to be the most direct diagnostic method for the definitive diagnosis of inhalation injury. The patient management includes airways assessment, adequate fluid resuscitation, and mechanical ventilation when required. All victims of smoke inhalation should be always evaluated for cyanide and carbon monoxide poisoning.

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