Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that’s both odorless and colorless.
It’s found in combustion (exhaust) fumes produced by:
- car mufflers
- space heaters
- charcoal grills
- car engines
- portable generators
Everyone is exposed to small amounts of carbon monoxide
throughout the day. However, inhaling too much of it can cause CO poisoning.
CO can increase to dangerous levels when combustion fumes become
trapped in a poorly ventilated or enclosed space (such as a garage). Inhaling
these fumes causes CO to build up in your bloodstream, which can lead to severe
CO poisoning is extremely serious and can be life threatening. Call
911 immediately if you or someone you know shows signs of CO poisoning.
Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are:
- dull headache
- difficulty breathing
If you breathe in large amounts on CO, your body will begin to
replace the oxygen in your blood with CO. When this occurs, you can become
unconscious. Death may occur in these cases.
You should go to the hospital right away if you’ve been exposed
to a source of CO, even if you don’t show symptoms of CO poisoning.
Is at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
CO poisoning occurs when there’s a large amount of CO present in
the air. The actual poisoning happens when you breathe in this air, especially if
you’re in a place that isn’t well ventilated.
The risk for inhaling too much CO increases if you’re near any of
- fuel-burning space heater
- gas stove or stovetop
- water heater
- idling car or truck in a garage or enclosed
These appliances typically produce a safe amount of CO. However,
the amount of CO in the air can increase quickly if these appliances are used
in enclosed or poorly ventilated spaces.
If you use these appliances in your home, you should place a CO detector
near these appliances. It’s also important to avoid leaving your car running
inside your garage or other enclosed spaces.
Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Diagnosed?
A doctor or nurse will take a blood sample to determine the
amount of CO in your blood. Once CO levels increase to 70 parts per million
(ppm) and above, symptoms become more noticeable. These symptoms may include
nausea, dizziness, and unconsciousness.
Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Treated?
If a doctor suspects you have CO poisoning, you’ll receive
treatment immediately once you’re in the hospital. Quick treatment is essential
to prevent life-threatening complications. Treatment may involve:
The best way to treat CO poisoning is to breathe in pure oxygen.
This treatment increases oxygen levels in the blood and helps remove CO from the
blood. Your doctor will place an oxygen mask over your nose and mouth and ask
you to inhale. If you’re unable to breathe on your own, you’ll receive oxygen
through a ventilator.
Your doctor may temporarily place you in a pressurized oxygen
chamber (also known as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber). The oxygen chamber has
twice the pressure of normal air. This treatment quickly increases oxygen
levels in the blood and it’s typically used in severe cases of CO poisoning or
to treat CO poisoning in pregnant women.
You should never treat CO poisoning yourself. If you believe you have
CO poisoning, go outdoors immediately and call 911. Don’t drive yourself to the
hospital because you may pass out while driving.
Are the Long-Term Health Risks of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Even minor cases of CO poisoning can cause serious complications.
These may include:
- brain damage
- heart damage
- organ damage
Due to the seriousness of these potential complications, it’s
important to get help as soon as possible if you believe you have CO poisoning.
Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
To avoid getting CO poisoning, you can take the following
- Ensure there’s plenty of ventilation in areas with
appliances that burn gas, wood, propane, or other fuel.
- Buy a CO detector and place it in an area near
the source of CO. Make sure to change the batteries regularly.
- Don’t fall asleep or sit for a long time in an
idling car that’s in an enclosed space.
- Don’t sleep near a gas or kerosene space heater.
- Don’t ignore symptoms of CO poisoning.
If you’ve been exposed to CO, get outdoors immediately and call
911. Don’t go back into the area until emergency service professionals tell you
that it’s safe to return.