Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after the inhalation of carbon monoxide gas. But the danger it poses is real. Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in your blood and the consequences can be fatal. Carbon monoxide is produced by appliances and other devices that burn gas, petroleum products, wood and other fuels. Sometimes carbon monoxide can accumulate to dangerous levels in your car, home or other poorly ventilated areas.
Symptoms of mild poisoning include headaches and flu-like effects; larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart . Following poisoning, long-term sequelae often occur. Carbon monoxide can also have severe effects on the fetus of a pregnant woman.
The mechanisms by which carbon monoxide produces toxic effects are not yet fully understood, but hemoglobin , myoglobin , and mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase are thought to be compromised. Treatment largely consists of administering 100% oxygen or hyperbaric oxygen therapy, although the optimum treatment remains controversial. Domestic carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented by the use of household carbon monoxide detectors.
Carbon monoxide poisoning happens when you breathe too much
carbon monoxide. Each carbon monoxide molecule is composed of a single carbon atom bonded to a single oxygen atom. Carbon monoxide results from the incomplete combustion of fossil fuels, such as wood, kerosene, gasoline, charcoal, propane, natural gas, and oil.
Common sources in the home include faulty central heating systems, gas appliances and fires. Blocked flues and chimneys mean the gas can’t escape and is inhaled by the unsuspecting individual. In the UK, about 50 people die each year in their homes from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Car exhausts are also a common source of carbon monoxide. A lethal level of carbon monoxide in the blood can develop within ten minutes inside a closed garage.
Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas which can be created whenever a fuel (such as wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas, or kerosene) is burning. Breathing carbon monoxide fumes decreases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. Low levels of oxygen can lead to cell death, including cells in the vital organs such as the brain and heart. Persons with existing health problems such as anemia, heart disease, and lung disease are especially vulnerable, as are unborn babies, infants, children, pregnant women, and elderly persons.
- Children riding in the back of enclosed pickup trucks (particularly high risk).
- Running cars, generators, or gas-powered tools in enclosed areas.
- Using heating sources during power outages.
- Industrial workers at pulp mills, steel foundries, and plants producing formaldehyde or coke.
- Using gas stoves or ovens to heat the home.
- Clogged chimneys and heating exhaust vents .
Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, upset stomach, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and heart palpitations. High levels of CO ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.
- Chest pain.
- Low blood pressure.
- Shortness of breath.
Treatment for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The goal of treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is to remove carbon monoxide from the hemoglobin in your blood and bring the oxygen level in your blood back to normal. Immediate treatment for CO poisoning is to remove the victim from the source of carbon monoxide gas and into fresh air. If the victim is not breathing and has no pulse, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) should be started. Depending on the severity of the poisoning, 100 percent oxygen may be given with a tight fitting mask as soon as it is available. Taken with other symptoms of CO poisoning, COHb levels of over 25 percent in healthy individuals, over 15 percent in people with a history of heart or lung disease, and over 10 percent in pregnant women usually indicate the need for hospitalization.
In the hospital, fluids and electrolytes are given to correct imbalances that have arisen from the breakdown of cellular metabolism. In severe cases of CO poisoning, individuals are given hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This treatment involves placing the person in a chamber in which the person breathes 100 percent oxygen at a pressure of more than one atmosphere (the normal pressure the atmosphere exerts at sea level). The increased pressure forces more oxygen into the blood. Hyperbaric facilities are specialized and are usually available only at larger hospitals.
- Oxygen therapy.
- Blood tests.
- Chest X-ray.
- Heart and neurological evaluation.