Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colourless and tasteless gas. When excessive carbon monoxide is in the air, Your body changes the oxygen in your red blood cells to carbon monoxide. It may result in severe tissue damage or even death. It is found in the combustion gases generated by: (1)

  • Burning wood
  • charcoal grills
  • car engines
  • heaters
  • fireplaces
  • Factory
  • space heaters
  • burning Charcoal
  • burning Propane

Everybody is exposed to minor quantities of carbon monoxide during the daytime. But excessive inhalation can lead to CO poisoning.

CO may reach hazardous levels when combustion vapours are trapped in an improperly ventilated or enclosed space. Inhalation of these vapours results in the accumulation of CO in your bloodstream, which may cause serious tissue damage.

CO poisoning is extremely severe and potentially fatal. Call 911 immediately if you or anyone you know has any indication of CO poisoning.

Causes

Carbon monoxide poisoning results from inhalation of combustion fumes. When there’s a lot of carbon monoxide in the air you breathe, Your body will replace your red blood cell oxygen with carbon monoxide. This makes it impossible for oxygen to reach your tissues and organs.

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

The most commonly occurring symptoms of CO poisoning include:

If you inhale large quantities of CO, your body will start replacing the oxygen in your bloodstream with CO. When this happens, you are able to become unconscious. Death can happen in these situations.

You should visit the hospital immediately if you have been exposed to a source of CO, even if you are not experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.

Who is at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?

CO poisoning happens when there is a lot of CO in the air. Poisoning occurs when you breathe this air, particularly if you find yourself in a poorly ventilated area. (2)

The risk of excessive CO inhalation increases if you are close to one of the following:

  • fuel burning
  • gas stove
  • burning wood
  • water heater
  • fireplace
  • burning charcoal

Home appliances usually produce a safe quantity of CO. However, the quantity of CO in the air can increase rapidly if these devices are used in confined or poorly ventilated spaces. (3)

If you are using these devices at home, you should place a CO sensor close to these devices. It is also important to avoid letting your car run through your garage or other close areas.

Risks Factors

Carbon monoxide can be extremely dangerous for:

  • Children
  • Older people
  • People suffering from chronic heart disease
  • Unborn baby

How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?

A physician or nurse will collect a blood sample to determine how much CO is in your blood. When CO concentrations rise to 70 parts per million (ppm) or higher, symptoms become more apparent. These symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, or unconsciousness.

How is carbon monoxide poisoning treated?

If a physician suspects that you have CO poisoning, you will be treated immediately after you arrive at the hospital. Early treatment is key to preventing life-threatening complications. Treatment can consist of:

Oxygen treatment

CO poisoning is best dealt with by breathing pure oxygen. It increases oxygen levels in the blood and helps eliminate CO from the blood. Your physician will put an oxygen mask on your nose and mouth and ask you to breathe. If you are incapable of breathing by yourself, you will receive oxygen through a ventilator.

Oxygen chamber

Your physician may place you temporarily in an oxygen pressure chamber (also known as the hyperbaric oxygen chamber). The pressure in the oxygen chamber is twice the normal pressure. This treatment rapidly increases oxygen levels in the bloodstream and is generally used in serious cases of CO poisoning or for the treatment of CO poisoning in pregnant women.

Emergency care

You should never do any treatment for CO poisoning yourself. If you think you have CO poisoning, go directly outside and call 911. Do not drive into a hospital because you may pass out while driving.

Long term health risks of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Even minor CO poisonings can lead to serious complications. This may involve:

  • death
  • damage in brain
  • damage in heart
  • body organ damage

Because of the severity of these potential complications, it is important to seek help as early as possible if you think you have CO poisoning.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

To prevent CO poisoning, the following preventative measures may be taken:

  • carbon monoxide detectors install
  • before starting your car open garage door
  • Avoiding burning appliances lile wood, charcoal

If you have had exposure to CO, go outside immediately and call 911. Do not return to the area until emergency service providers tell you that it is safe to return. (4)

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