Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

1 What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when you inhale too much carbon monoxide and levels in the blood go beyond the safe limits. When inhaled, carbon monoxide can replace the oxygen in your red blood cells causing a lack of oxygen to the tissues. This can lead to serious tissue damage, or even death.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas produced by incomplete combustion of gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other fuel. Though carbon monoxide production is a common occurrence in industrial setting, a dangerous buildup is observed in poorly ventilated areas and enclosed spaces.

Seek immediate medical care if you suspect you or anyone close has signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

2 Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:

Carbon monoxide poisoning is called silent killer; you may never wake up from your sleep or state of intoxication if you are exposed to carbon monoxide during your sleep or when you are drunk. It can also cause irreversible brain damage.

When to see a doctor?

The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide may not be obvious especially due to low-level exposure. However, the condition is a life-threatening medical emergency. Seek immediate medical care if you suspect you or anyone close has signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

3 Causes

Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling air that contains carbon monoxide. When too much of it is inhaled, carbon monoxide can replace oxygen in your RBCs thus preventing oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs.
Various fuel-burning products and engines produce carbon monoxide.
In general, the amount of carbon monoxide produced by these sources isn't likely to cause signs of poisoning as long as there is enough ventilation to prevent dangerous buildup of the gas.

4 Making a Diagnosis

Diagnosis of carbon monoxide poisoning can be made on the basis of a conversation between you and healthcare professional.

If you notice any of the signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning like headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness and confusion, get into fresh air and seek immediate medical help.

Prepare yourself for any question-answer session with your doctor.

Your doctor may ask you questions like:

  • How do you think you were exposed to carbon monoxide?
  • Any possible sources of carbon monoxide exposure?
  • When did you first experience the signs or symptoms? How severe are they now?
  • Are you having any memory problems or confusions?
  • Any loss of consciousness?
  • Are you a smoker?

Your treatment begins immediately after admission into the emergency department. For a confirmation of carbon monoxide poisoning, your doctor can send blood samples to test for presence of carbon monoxide.

5 Treatment

Your treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning begins immediately after admission into the hospital.

The treatment includes:

  • Administration of pure oxygen: Pure oxygen is immediately administered so that tissue hypoxia is prevented. If you are not able to breathe on your own, ventilator may be used to facilitate breathing.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: In many cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, breathing pure oxygen in a pressure chamber where the pressure is two to three times the normal atmospheric pressure, is recommended.

This hastens dissociation of carbon monoxide from carboxyhemoglobin and helps to protect heart and brain tissue, which are more prone to injury from the poisoning. Pregnant women with the poisoning are also candidates for hyperbaric oxygen therapy as unborn babies are at greater risk.

6 Prevention

Here are some simple precautions to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented.Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
  • If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

7 Risks and Complications

Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to serious and sometimes fatal complications to all but certain sub groups of population.

Unborn babies, children, and older adults are at a greater risk.

Depending upon the level and length of exposure, the complications can range from permanent brain damage, damage to your heart, cardiac complications to ultimately death.

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