Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs after excessive inhalation of carbon monoxide (CO). Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas, which is colorless, odorless, and tasteless. It is created by the incomplete combustion of organic matter. It is often produced in homes by gas stoves or home heating units or in industrial settings by motor vehicles, or by tools, gas heaters, and cooking equipment used in enclosed spaces which are powered by propane, butane, or charcoal. Exposure at 100 ppm or greater can be dangerous to human health.
Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is responsible for up to 40,000 emergency department (ED) visits and 5000 to 6000 deaths per year, making it one of the leading causes of poisoning death in the United States. Below are the signs and symptoms due to exposure:
35 ppm (0.0035%) Headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure
100 ppm (0.01%) Slight headache in two to three hours
200 ppm (0.02%) Slight headache within two to three hours; loss of judgment
400 ppm (0.04%) Frontal headache within one to two hours
800 ppm (0.08%) Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 min; insensible within 2 hours
1,600 ppm (0.16%) Headache, increased heart rate, dizziness, and nausea within 20 min; death in less than 2 hours
3,200 ppm (0.32%) Headache, dizziness and nausea in five to ten minutes. Death within 30 minutes.
6,400 ppm (0.64%) Headache and dizziness in one to two minutes. Convulsions, respiratory arrest, and death in less than 20 minutes.
12,800 ppm (1.28%) Unconsciousness after 2–3 breaths. Death in less than three minutes.
Symptoms of mild acute poisoning include lightheadedness, confusion, headache, vertigo, and flu-like symptoms. Furthermore, a larger exposure can lead to significant damage to the central nervous system, heart, and ultimately death. Carbon monoxide can also have severe effects on unborn children. Chronic exposure to relatively low levels of carbon monoxide may cause persistent headaches, lightheadedness, depression, confusion, memory loss, nausea and vomiting.
How does carbon monoxide affect the human body? Carbon monoxide causes adverse reactions in human body by binding with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (HbCO) in the blood. This prevents hemoglobin from binding with oxygen thus affecting hemoglobin’s ability to carry oxygen to the tissues. This effectively reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood. This condition is called hypoxia. It is also thought myoglobin and mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase are affected as well. Carboxyhemoglobin can change back to hemoglobin.
Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning consists of administering 100% oxygen or providing hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Oxygen works as an antidote as it increases the removal of carbon monoxide from hemoglobin. One hallmark sign of carbon monoxide poisoning is the “cherry-red” appearance which is commonly seen in those who are deceased.
CO poisoning is entirely preventable. You can protect yourself and your family by installing CO detectors as well as smoke detectors in your home. Here are some examples. Avoid using a gas range or oven to heat a home. Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked a garage. Always make sure your chimney is clean when using your fireplace. If CO poisoning is suspected get out of the house, call 911, the gas/power company and consult a health care professional right away.
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