Deaths from accidental steam inhalation during traditional therapy

J Clin Forensic Med. 2005 Aug;12(4):214-7. doi: 10.1016/j.jcfm.2005.02.001. Epub 2005 Apr 14.


Death from accidental steam inhalation is quite a rare occurrence. Two cases of children who died during the inhalation of superheated steam in a closed room are reported. To our knowledge this is the first case report where children died from the injurious effects of steam while inhaling steam. At autopsy, petechial haemorrhages in brain, lungs, heart, and congestion of epiglottis, congestion and oedema of lungs were seen macroscopically. Microscopically, trachea showed swelling and oedema of mucosa and sub mucosa, focal loss of mucosal epithelium and coagulative necrosis with scanty inflammatory reaction, lungs showed congestion, oedema and haemorrhages. It is considered that these findings caused hypoxia and cause of death in these cases was accidental inhalation of superheated steam. It indicates that mucosa of respiratory tract is vulnerable to the effects of vapors of superheated steam. Moreover it would seem that fatal hypoxia occurs within a few minutes from the effects of inhalation of steam in a closed space.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Accidents, Home*
  • Adolescent
  • Asphyxia / etiology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Child
  • Edema / pathology
  • Female
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Hemorrhage / pathology
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Inhalation*
  • Medicine, African Traditional*
  • Mucous Membrane / pathology
  • Myocardium / pathology
  • Necrosis / pathology
  • Purpura / pathology
  • Respiratory System / pathology
  • South Africa
  • Steam / adverse effects*
  • Volatilization


  • Steam