Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by carbon monoxide gas building up in the blood stream. Carbon monoxide poisoning replaces your red blood cells. In a very short time, this replacement leads to significant, dangerous tissue damage. This type of poisoning can quickly lead to death.

Carbon monoxide is a common gas put out by petroleum burning, charcoal, and wood burning products. This gas has no color, no taste, and no odor. Usually, this gas is caused by appliances and engines that are not ventilated properly and are enclosed in a closed space. With the appliance being entrapped, it allows dangerous levels of carbon monoxide to develop.

A person with carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately be removed from the area and placed in fresh air. Emergency medical attention should be sought as soon as the person has reached fresh air.

What are the Symptoms for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are extremely dangerous, especially to people who are already asleep or who are intoxicated.

Symptoms include:

  • Low, dull headache
  • Muscle weakness
  • Moderate to severe dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
  • Various levels of confusion
  • Vision becomes blurred
  • Possible loss of consciousness

Severe carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to brain damage that is irreversible. It is also possible for someone to die before they even realize that something isn’t right. Anyone with warning signs of carbon monoxide poisoning should be removed to fresh air and medical help should be obtained.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes

Inhaling fumes from combustion is the main cause of carbon monoxide poisoning. When there is too much carbon monoxide in the air being breathed in, the body replaces the oxygen of the red blood cells with carbon monoxide instead, preventing oxygen from reaching the organs and tissues. Many fuel-burning engines and products produce carbon monoxide.

While normally the amount produced isn’t a danger to anyone, it can become one if the fuel-burning items are used in a partially or completely closed space, such as using an outdoors grill inside. A closed space prevents the carbon monoxide from escaping the air in the area and it can rise to a dangerous level as a result, leaving people in that area breathing in too much of it.

Naturally, inhaling smoke during a fire is another potential carbon monoxide poisoning cause, as a bigger fire can produce a high level of the gas.

How is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Treated?

Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning may involve breathing pure oxygen. If the carbon monoxide poisoning is severe, you may be required to stay in a hyperbaric chamber for a short time. A hyperbaric chamber prevents damage of the brain and heart, which are extremely easy for carbon monoxide poisoning to injure.

For women who are pregnant, hyperbaric treatment is required. This is because the unborn baby can suffer health problems faster than the average adult. Inside the hyperbaric chamber, the air pressure is approximately two to three times higher than a normal room. The pressure helps to replace the carbon monoxide particles in your blood with red blood cells. The doctor may recommend that you stay in the chamber until your blood work comes back close to normal limits.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention

Using fuel-burning items safely and the proper maintenance of those items is key for avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning. Heating systems in the home that burn fuel, such as a gas furnace, should be checked by a professional annually.

Products meant for outdoors use, like a camp stove, should never be used indoors. Never leave a vehicle running in a garage that is attached to a living space, as the carbon monoxide produced could seep into the home via cracks, gaps and other entry points. Ovens should never be used as a home-heating appliance, and every appliance that burns fuel should always have proper ventilation in place. Carbon monoxide detectors must be installed and tested once per year to ensure they are still working properly.

If a detector’s alarm sounds, everyone should leave the area immediately and call emergency services.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
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Last Reviewed:
September 18, 2016
Last Updated:
November 22, 2017
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