Campfire Smoke Inhalation Symptoms


Feb 12, 2022


If you’re experiencing a sore throat after a campfire, you may be suffering from campfire smoke inhalation symptoms. Other mild smoke inhalation symptoms you could be experiencing include shortness of breath, red and/or itchy eyes, or a headache. Keeping that in mind, seek emergency medical attention if your symptoms progress into difficulty breathing, severe coughing spells, or you notice that your nostril hairs are singed.

Although campfires can be an enjoyable way to spend a summer night, being exposed to too much smoke can bring on some concerning symptoms. In this article, we will walk you through campfire smoke inhalation symptoms to watch for and advise on when to seek medical care.

What are the symptoms of too much smoke inhalation?

Signs and symptoms of smoke inhalation include:

  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Red, itchy, or irritated eyes
  • Scratchy throat or hoarseness
  • Changes in skin color (red or blueish)
  • Swollen sinuses or nasal passages
  • Soot in nostrils
  • Headaches
  • Confusion
  • Fainting
  • Seizures

How long does it take for smoke inhalation symptoms to appear? Symptoms can appear almost immediately or within the next 24 hours and in severe cases, even days later.

Keep in mind that the above symptoms can be a useful way to determine the severity of your exposure. If you notice minor symptoms such as a cough or sore throat after a campfire that leads to more severe symptoms including confusion, fainting, or seizures, call 911 immediately.

What happens if you inhale smoke from a campfire?

Can smoke from a campfire make you sick? Outside of irritating pre-existing health conditions like asthma, inhaling campfire smoke can expose your lungs to unnecessary carcinogens (any substance that increases your risk of cancer). Campfire smoke can contain small particles known as PM2.5, chemicals, and other irritants that can hurt your eyes and lungs when you’re exposed to it. These microscopic particles are what can cause campfire smoke inhalation symptoms, asthma attacks, and serious health conditions like bronchitis, strokes, and heart attacks. If you have a pre-existing heart condition, it’s vital that you and those around you understand the cardiac arrest and heart attack difference as it could be what saves your life.

Being exposed to smoke from any form of fire increases your exposure to various amounts of carbon monoxide. Having a campfire in a poorly ventilated area puts you at risk of accidental poisoning due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause symptoms such as headache, nausea, confusion, vomiting, and in cases where a significant amount of carbon monoxide is inhaled, even death.

A lot of Texans find joy in gathering around a campfire whether it be on a cooler winter night* or at a campground, and we understand that it may be hard to avoid them completely. In order to minimize your risk of breathing in harmful smoke, it’s best to use well-seasoned wood and avoid treated wood that releases toxic chemicals when burned. It’s also important to move if you are downwind from the smoke and limit exposure for young children with developing respiratory systems.

*Continue reading for more health tips during the winter season.

How to treat smoke inhalation

After removing yourself from the campfire, you can treat minor smoke inhalation symptoms at home by:

  • Sucking on cough drops
  • Avoiding additional smoke exposure of any kind
  • Avoid cold, dry, or hot air
  • Using a personal face steamer (steam therapy)
  • Resting

Severe cases of smoke inhalation may be treated at an emergency room by your medical provider with the following modalities:

  • Chest X-ray to diagnose the severity
  • Bronchoscopy to assess the degree of damage to the airways
  • Blood tests
  • Supplemental oxygen
  • Hyperbaric chamber (for carbon monoxide poisoning)
  • Medication such as bronchodilators

When to see a doctor for smoke inhalation

Exposure to campfire smoke is generally less harmful than inhaling smoke from a forest or home fire. Therefore, home observation and removing yourself from the fire can quickly solve the issue. However, severe symptoms of smoke inhalation can still be experienced from a campfire.

If you breathe in smoke and start to notice symptoms such as: 

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Asthma attacks
  • Seizures
  • Heart attack (Read more on when to go to the ER with chest pain)
  • Bluing of the skin, lips, or extremities

Don’t wait to call for emergency help. If you are around someone who is experiencing these symptoms, ensure your safety first, then move them away from the smoky area. After calling 911, check to ensure that they are breathing and administer CPR if necessary.

Come to a Complete Care 24/7 freestanding emergency room for campfire smoke inhalation symptoms

If you are experiencing campfire smoke inhalation symptoms that are more than just a sore throat after a campfire, head into a Complete Care emergency room near you. Each one of our facilities are fully equipped and able to offer a full range of services. Plus, our team is trained to get you in and treated with minimal wait times so that you can get back to life as quickly as possible. Look for one of our ER locations throughout Texas and Colorado, all ready to take complete care of you.

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