The Evaluation of Physical Exam Findings in Patients Assessed for Suspected Burn Inhalation Injury

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The purpose of this investigation was to evaluate the utility of singed nasal hair (SN), carbonaceous sputum (CS), and facial burns (FB) as indicators of burn inhalation injury, when compared to the accepted standard of bronchoscopic diagnosis of inhalation injury. An institutional review board approved, retrospective review was conducted. All patients were suspected to have burn inhalation injury and subsequently underwent bronchoscopic evaluation. Data collected included: percent burn TBSA, burn injury mechanism, admission physical exam findings (SN, CS, FB), and bronchoscopy findings. Thirty-five males and twelve females met inclusion criteria (n = 47). Bronchoscopy was normal in 31 patients (66%). Data were analyzed as all patients and in subgroups according to burn TBSA and an enclosed space mechanism of injury. Physical exam findings (SN, CS, FB) were evaluated individually and in combination. Overall, the sensitivities, specificities, positive predictive values, and negative predictive values calculated were poor and inconsistent, and they did not improve within subgroup analysis or when physical findings were combined. Further statistical analysis suggested the physical findings, whether in isolation or in combination, have poor discrimination between patients that have and do not have inhalation injury (AUC < 0.7, P > .05) and poor agreement with the diagnosis made by bronchoscopy (κ < 0.4, P > .05). This remained true in the subgroup analysis as well. Our data demonstrated the findings of SN, CS, and FB are unreliable evidence for inhalation injury, even in the context of an enclosed space mechanism of injury. Thus, these physical findings are not absolute indicators for intubation and should be interpreted as one component of the history and physical.

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