Carbon monoxide has no smell or taste; it is a byproduct of combustion. Humans and other animals with lungs cannot tell when they are breathing in carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide competes with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from our lungs to tissues all over our body, and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues.
Carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin with a binding affinity over 200 times greater than that of oxygen. In other words, carbon monoxide is much better at getting into hemoglobin that oxygen is. If oxygen cannot get into hemoglobin because that space is occupied with carbon monoxide, then parts of our body (tissues) will be starved of oxygen and die. Our bodies have no use for carbon monoxide, when we breathe it in; it deprives our blood of oxygen.
According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), at least 200 people die each year in the USA from carbon monoxide poisoning. Vitas Gerulaitis, the tennis star, died of carbon monoxide poisoning when his cottage in Long Island, USA, was filled with carbon monoxide as a result of a swimming pool heater fault in 1994.
It is not uncommon for a person to experience carbon monoxide symptoms but not be aware of the basis of their symptoms, which initially may be unspecific.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
A symptom is something the patient feels and reports, while a sign is something other people, such as a doctor, may detect. For example, pain may be a symptom while a rash may be a sign.
Stop using all gas appliances if you suspect CO poisoning
Flu-like symptoms, but without a temperature, is a sign of possible carbon monoxide poisoning; especially if several people in the same building share those symptoms. In such cases (when several people have the symptoms) all cooking and heating appliances should be switched off, all windows opened, and the local gas safety authorities notified.
The longer somebody's exposure to CO gas (carbon monoxide) is, the more severe symptoms will become.Signs or symptoms may include:
- Loss of balance
- Vision problems
- Memory problems
- Eventual loss of consciousness.
- Memory problems
- Coordination difficulties.
- Patients with existing heart problems
- Patients with existing breathing problems
- Babies and small children
- Pregnant mothers
What are the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Household appliances, such as gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers and open fires which use gas, oil, coal and wood may be possible sources of CO gas if the fuel does not burn fully. If household appliances are well serviced and used safely they should produce negligible quantities of CO gas. The older the appliance, the less frequently it is serviced, the higher the chance is that higher levels of CO gas will be emitted. Excess CO gas can build in rooms where people can inhale it.
Smoking cigarettes causes a rise in CO blood levels.
A switched-on car produces CO gas. A car in a closed garage
with the engine running can cause lethal levels of CO gas within ten minutes.
Burning charcoal also produces CO gas.
Blocked flues and chimneys can stop CO gas from escaping.
Fumes from paint removers and cleaning fluids containing methylene chloride (dichloromethane) may cause CO gas poisoning. Methylene chloride turns into carbon monoxide when it is breathed in.
How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?Members of the general public should be aware of the possible signs of CO poisoning. Learn the possible symptoms listed above, as well as looking out for the following situations:
- A large proportion of people in the same office, home, school or building develop the same symptoms.
What is the treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning?
Move away from the possible CO gas source and get your symptoms assessed.
Treatment will take place in hospital. The patient will be given 100% oxygen through a mask - this will the body make axyhemoglobin faster, replacing the carboxyhemoglobin.
Patients who are suspected of having nerve damage, or those who have had extensive CO gas exposure will be given HBOT (hyperbaric oxygen therapy). This treatment floods the blood with pure oxygen, which compensates for the oxygen shortage the CO gas poisoning has caused.
HBOT may be given to patients whose oxygen supply was reduced or cut off, such as patients in coma. those with a history of loss of consciousness, individuals with unusual ECG reading, patients with reduced brain activity, and pregnant women.
Patients with mild CO gas poisoning will most likely not need to go to hospital.
What are the possible complications of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Brain damage - this may include worsening memory and concentration. Although very rare, some patients with severe symptoms may develop Parkinsonism, which may include stiffness, slow movements and shaking.
Heart damage - this may include coronary heart disease. Heart damage is more likely if the patient is exposed for a long time.
Urinary incontinence - this is more common in women with severe CO gas poisoning. The patient may develop involuntary leakage of urine (passing urine when not meaning to).
How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning
Be aware of the dangers
Keep household appliances in good working order, and use them safely. Make sure the servicing is carried out by fully qualified and registered professionals.
Do not use gas ranges or ovens for heating.
Do not block air vents in rooms.
Make sure all rooms are well ventilated. Be especially careful if your home is very well insulated.
Chimneys and flues should be swept thoroughly and regularly by a fully qualified sweep. This should be done at least once every twelve months.
Beware of gas powered tools and equipment when used inside rooms.
When using chemicals that contain methylene chloride make sure you use a mask.
Do not leave gasoline-powered motors running in your garage. For example, motorbikes, cars or lawn mowers.
If you have an indoor barbeque, do not use charcoal.
Carbon monoxide alarms - these can be installed in the home. Most of them give out a loud high-pitched sound when CO gas levels have risen beyond a certain point.
Written by Christian Nordqvist
Copyright: Medical News Today