Pulmonary injury in burned patients

D. N. Herndon, P. B. Thompson, D. L. Traber

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


With improvements in treatment of burn shock and wound sepsis, inhalation injury has emerged as the number one cause of fatality in the burn patient; it accounts for 20 to 84 per cent of burn mortality. Only steam is capable of inflicting direct thermal damage; most injury is caused by incomplete products of combustion, the most important being aldehydes. More accurate diagnostic techniques, including fiberoptic bronchoscopy and 133Xe scanning, have been added to the traditional clinical signs of inhalation injury, such as facial burns, singed nasal vibrissae, and closed space injury, and have led to a new estimation of a 30 per cent incidence among patients with major burns. Patients with inhalation injury typically pass through three stages, those of acute pulmonary insufficiency, pulmonary edema, and broncho-pneumonia. The major early pathophysiologic changes seen in the lungs of burned patients related to edema. With inhalation injury this is probably mediated by the products of activated neutrophils. Later changes are the result of the reduction of surfactant and thus lung compliance. Treatment consists of intubation at the first hint of respiratory distress; the issue of tracheostomy versus endotracheal intubation has not been scientifically resolved, but most centers employ prolonged nasotracheal intubation. Prophylactic antibodies or steroids are not of benefit. Further care is only supportive and includes CPAP, PEEP, vigorous pulmonary toilet, humidification of inspired air, and antibiotics for documented infection. Further advances await the development of pharmacologic methods of affecting the lung's response to injury, which includes altered capillary permeability and decreased immune function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)79-96
Number of pages18
JournalCritical Care Clinics
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1985
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Critical Care and Intensive Care Medicine


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