Can a Car Accident Cause Smoke Inhalation?  

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Smoke Inhalation

Of the many types of bodily injuries that occur from car accidents, inhalation injuries are among the most difficult to detect and evaluate. 

Some people do not even realize they have an inhalation injury right away. But consider the sobering statistic that up to 80 percent of deaths from fires are due to inhalation injuries and lack of oxygen rather than the actual burn injuries. 

It is impossible to predict the outcome of a car accident. Depending on the impact, the fuel pipes or tank can explode, causing a dangerous fire and exposing the passengers to serious burns and inhalation injuries. This discussion explains how inhalation injuries occur, how they are treated, and the impact a lung injury can have on a person’s quality of life. 

What Is an Inhalation Injury? 

An inhalation is the result of exposure to smoke or steam from a fire for an extended period. It can also develop after exposure to some corrosive chemicals. Inhalation injuries generally cause serious health complications, and some can be fatal. 

Injuries caused by smoke and/or chemicals can continue damaging the lungs for days after the initial exposure. Hot steam can injury the entire respiratory system, including the lungs, and be difficult to treat. 

Signs of Smoke Inhalation 

You should seek immediate medical attention if you have been exposed to fire for a significant length of time and notice: 

  • Burn injuries around your face and chest 
  • Chest pain or burning
  • Coughing 
  • Dark mucus from the nose or mouth 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • Hoarse voice 
  • Nose and throat irritation
  • Singed nasal hairs 
  • Trouble speaking 
  • Weakness or fainting
  • Wheezing 

Smoke inhalation is a serious condition because it can impact a person’s ability to breathe properly, damage the airways and release harmful substances into the body. 

Diagnosing Smoke Inhalation after a Car Accident 

As mentioned above, anytime you are exposed to fire for a prolonged period, you are at risk of smoke inhalation. If you have any of the symptoms above after a fire, see a doctor as soon as possible. 

Physicians use chest X-rays and blood tests to diagnose smoke inhalation. They also measure the amount of oxygen in your blood to determine if smoke, steam, or chemicals caused damage to the airway and lungs. 

How Is Smoke Inhalation Treated? 

If your vehicle catches fire or a fire erupts at the accident scene, obviously get away from it as quickly and safely as possible. Call 911 if you or anyone else appears injured. 

Treatment for smoke inhalation primarily involves the administering of oxygen through a nose tube, mask, or breathing tube inserted in the throat. 

Hyperbaric oxygen (HBO) therapy is also used to treat some cases of smoke inhalation. HBO therapy is typically administered within the first 48 to 72 hours of a burn injury. HBO increases the saturation of oxygen in the body to hasten the recovery process. 

It is not only used for inhalation injuries, but it is also beneficial for patients with soft tissue damage, chronic wounds, and carbon monoxide poisoning.

Medication is another important part of smoke inhalation treatment. Bronchodilators help to widen airways and relax the lung muscles. Antibiotics may be ordered to treat possible infection. If the patient was exposed to toxic substances, they may be prescribed additional medications to treat chemical poisoning. 

What Is the Prognosis for a Smoke Inhalation Injury? 

The prognosis for smoke inhalation after a motor vehicle collision or any type of accident varies from person to person. Recovery depends on the severity of the injury and the person’s overall lung health prior to the accident. 

In most cases, it will take a time for the lungs to heal completely, and many people experience shortness of breath for some time after. If the lungs are scarred, the person is likely to have shortness of breath for the rest of their life. 

Other Common Lung Injuries from Car Accidents 

The human lungs are air-filled, spongy organs located on either side of the chest. They have an important job to transport oxygen to the vital organs throughout the body and provide essential nutrients for the body’s tissues. 

Although the lungs are protected by the bones of the rib cage, they are not impervious to injury, especially in a forceful car accident. 

Beyond smoke inhalation, here are some other common car accident injuries of the chest:  

Punctured lung. Any sharp object that is propelled by the forces of a collision can penetrate the lungs. That creates forceful pressure on the person’s body. A shattered window or piece of metal can impale a passenger. Sometimes, broken bones in the body can pierce the lungs. 

Symptoms of a punctured lung include pressure, pain, and shortness of breath. Treatment depends on the extend of trauma to the lung. 

Collapsed lung. In the most severe cases, a punctured lung can lead to a collapsed lung. Signs of a collapsed lung include difficulty breathing, persistent cough, and significant chest pain when breathing. If a collapsed lung goes intreated, the patient can suffocate to death. 

In some cases, a small collapsed lung, or pneumothorax, can heal on its own; more extensive trauma may require surgery.  

Rib fracture. A rib fracture, or broken rib, can occur anytime there is trauma to the chest. That can be something as forceful as a serious car accident, a fall from a height, or a contact sports accident. Some repetitive motions such as golf and can cause a broken rib. 

The most common sign of a rib fracture is severe pain that worsens with breathing. Because the ribs protect other vital organs, any fractures can be associated with damage to internal organs and blood vessels. 

Any rib injury should be evaluated by a doctor. People with minor rib fractures are usually prescribed rest, pain management, and restricted motion. Complex cases may require surgery, but they are far less common. 

Personal Injury Claim for Car Accidents in Maryland 

If you have suffered smoke inhalation or some other type of lung injury as a result of a car accident that was not your fault, you may have a valid legal claim. Compensation from a personal injury lawsuit can help with medical bills, lost wages, as well as physical pain and suffering. 

After any car accident involving smoke, fire, or chemicals, the first step should be to get away from the scene. Assess everyone at the scene and call for help. If you do not require immediate medical help, it is still a good idea to see a doctor to rule out serious accident injuries. Some breathing and lung issues are not always immediately apparent. 

If you are able, document the scene with photos and video and file a report with the police. All these details may be vital to a future accident claim. Exchange contact information with the other driver and contact a trusted car accident lawyer for more information about car accident claims in Maryland once you are safely home. 

Be careful not to admit guilt or agree to a quick insurance settlement until you have spoken with your lawyer about your case. 

Baltimore Car Accident Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Guide Clients through the Claim Process 

Any car accident is stressful. Dealing with the claim process on top of physical injuries and auto repairs can feel overwhelming. The Baltimore car accident lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are here to help. Our legal team will lead you through the process from start to finish, taking care of the practical details so that you can focus on healing. To schedule a free, confidential consultation, call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreColumbiaGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery County, Prince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.