Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

ExitCare ImageCarbon monoxide poisoning is illness caused by inhaling carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. When the gas is inhaled, it quickly enters the bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to your cells. This decrease in oxygen received by the body tissues quickly becomes a life-threatening problem. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency that requires immediate medical care. People who are elderly or who have heart disease or lung disease are more likely to have ill effects from carbon monoxide poisoning.

CAUSES

Carbon monoxide poisoning is often caused by inhaling exhaust fumes from fuel burning sources. Burning any carbon-containing fuel (gasoline, coal, charcoal, wood) releases carbon monoxide into the air. Sources of carbon monoxide fumes include:

  • Motor exhaust from cars, motorcycles, and boats.

  • Cigarette smoke.

  • Propane-powered tools and vehicles.

  • Gas-powered tools and other industrial equipment.

Without proper ventilation, carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed or partially enclosed area. For example, if a chimney is not clear, a camping stove is used indoors, or a car is left running in a closed garage, this can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.

SYMPTOMS

  • Headache.

  • Dizziness.

  • Sleepiness.

  • Weakness.

  • Confusion.

  • Fainting.

  • Seizures.

  • Coma.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Chest pain.

  • Shortness of breath.

DIAGNOSIS

Your caregiver will probably suspect that you have carbon monoxide poisoning based on your symptoms and history of possible exposure. A blood test may be done to confirm the diagnosis.

TREATMENT

Treatment involves getting to fresh air immediately and removing yourself from the dangerous environment. In the emergency room, you may be given oxygen therapy. Oxygen can be delivered through a face mask or breathing tubes that fit under your nostrils. In some severe cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used. For this treatment, the person enters a chamber where oxygen is delivered under forced pressure. This speeds up the process in which oxygen is absorbed and replaces the carbon monoxide in the blood.

PREVENTION

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home.

  • Have all gas stoves and furnaces inspected once a year.

  • Clean all fireplace chimneys and flues at least once a year.

  • Have the exhaust system in your car checked once a year.

  • Never keep a car's motor running in a closed garage.

  • Never sleep in a car with the motor running.

  • Make sure all rooms that are heated with gasoline, coal, charcoal, or wood are properly ventilated.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

Do not return to the area where you were exposed to carbon monoxide. The area must be thoroughly ventilated before it is safe to return.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

You suspect that a person has inhaled carbon monoxide gas. Remove the person from the area immediately. Call your local emergency services (911 in U.S.). Begin rescue breathing if the person is unconscious.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.