Smoke Inhalation Effects

Updated February 21, 2017

A bonfire might seem like the perfect way to end a day at the beach, but there are dangers associated with fires of any kind. Among these dangers is smoke inhalation. Smoke inhalation can cause serious damage to the lungs, including an increased risk of developing lung cancer.


When you inhale smoke from a fire or cigarette, your body's natural response to remove the smoke from your lungs is to cough. Smoke can contain particles that stick to the throat or opening to the lungs, and it can also contain dangerous chemicals. Coughing is a way the body protects the lungs from being exposed to these elements.

Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome

Acute respiratory distress syndrome, often simply called ARDS, is a severe inflammation of the lungs. ARDS makes it extremely difficult for a person to breath and makes it difficult for the lungs to obtain oxygen from the air that makes it into the lungs. People with ARDS can die from the condition and will often need to be on a ventilator to assist their breathing.

Cerebral Hypoxia

Cerebral hypoxia is a condition where there isn't enough oxygen getting to the brain. Inhaling smoke can damage lung tissue and make it difficult for the lungs to pull oxygen from the air they receive. Cerebral hypoxia can cause severe brain damage or even death.


Stridor is a term to describe a wheezing or whistling sound when someone breathes in. Smoke inhalation can cause a build-up of mucus in the lungs or can cause swelling in the lung tissue or the opening of the lungs. As air tries to pass these blockages, it creates a whistling noise. If the cause of stridor is severe, a person may require a breathing tube to bypass the blockage and allow air to reach the lungs.


Inhaling smoke from both cigarettes and fires is a known cause of lung cancer. Smoke contains many chemicals, such as dioxins, which cause cellular damage and can lead to lung cancer. Firefighters in particular are likely to breathe in asbestos in smoke. Asbestos is a substance known to cause lung cancer.

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About the Author

Sophie Stillwell has been writing professionally since 1992. She is published in "The Gorham Times" newspaper, "Private Colleges & Universities" magazine, on eHow and in several other publications. She has experience working as a paralegal, antiques dealer and neurobehavioral coach. Her writing topics frequently include frugal living, pets and health. Stillwell holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Southern Maine.