Watch now: Number of people suffering burns while smoking and using oxygen rises sharply, Lincoln surgeon says | Health and Fitness

Sadye Matula

Over the past two years, the burn unit at CHI St. Elizabeth saw fewer than 10 patients total who were injured in accidents that were caused by smoking while they were using a personal oxygen tank. But in the past six weeks alone, eight people have been hospitalized in its […]

Over the past two years, the burn unit at CHI St. Elizabeth saw fewer than 10 patients total who were injured in accidents that were caused by smoking while they were using a personal oxygen tank.

But in the past six weeks alone, eight people have been hospitalized in its burn unit for oxygen-related smoking injuries, while another four have been referred to its outpatient burn clinic.


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Officials with the health system say they aren’t sure what’s causing the spike in smoking injuries, but it’s an alarming trend.

“It’s an extremely dangerous combination, and unfortunately we’ve seen quite an uptick in the number of patients than we’ve seen in the past,” said Dr. Edmundo Rivera, a burn surgeon at St. Elizabeth.

Rivera said all of the patients were smoking cigarettes while using their supplemental oxygen, and their injuries have ranged from minor facial burns to third-degree burns and damage to their respiratory system. Several patients have had to go on ventilators, and two have died, he said.

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“This is a dangerous combination with deadly consequences,” he said.

Rivera said he’s not aware of any specific reason for the uptick in these injuries. He said the patients he was able to speak to told him either they had always smoked when using their oxygen and never had a problem before or said they were unaware that the oxygen they were using could be ignited by a cigarette.

Injuries from smoking while using oxygen are relatively rare. More than 1.5 million Americans use home oxygen every year, a number that has likely increased during the pandemic, but a 2019 study by the National Fire Protection Association found only 311 incidences of fires started by home oxygen use over a 20-month period. However, the study found that 72% of those fires were caused by smoking.

The American Burn Association reported that there were an average of 80 deaths nationwide from 2012-2016 caused by people smoking while using supplemental oxygen.

Rivera said he’s trying to get the word out and educate people about the dangers of smoking while using oxygen.

“This seems like one of the more preventable injuries that we see,” he said.


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