Background: Smoke inhalation is a major source of morbidity and mortality. Heparin and N-acetylcysteine treatment has potential efficacy in inhalation injury. We investigated the impact of a heparin/N-acetylcysteine/albuterol nebulization protocol in adult patients with inhalation injury.
Methods: A retrospective review was performed of adult inhalation injury patients, admitted to a regional burn center between January 2011 and July 2012, who underwent a protocol of alternating treatments of heparin and N-acetylcysteine/albuterol nebulization every 4 hours. The study cohort was matched 1:1 by age, sex, and burn size to a control cohort admitted within 5 years before protocol implementation.
Results: The study (n = 20) and control cohorts (n = 20) were well matched, with nearly identical age (50 vs 49 years), sex distribution (70% male), burn size (total body surface area, 22% vs 21%), and inhalation injury, except grade I injuries (79% vs 47%, P = 0.01). The protocol did not change mortality (30% vs 25%, P = 0.72) or duration of mechanical ventilation (8.5 vs 8.8 days, P = 0.9). There was no difference in development of sepsis (40% vs 33%, P = 0.7) or acute respiratory distress syndrome (15% vs 10%, P = 1); however, those who received the protocol were more likely to develop pneumonia (45% vs 11%, P = 0.03).
Conclusions: The implementation of a heparin/N-acetylcysteine/albuterol protocol did not reduce mortality or duration of mechanical ventilation in this cohort of adults with inhalation injury and resulted in a significant increase in pneumonia rates. Larger prospective studies are necessary, with close attention paid to minimizing the infection risk incurred from frequent administration of nebulized medications.