Understanding Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The air we breathe in is made up of a mixture of gases that are beneficial to man. We breathe in these gases to be able to attain the conditions required for our respiratory and blood circulations system to be optimised. These essential gases include oxygen and hydrogen in appropriate volumes.
In this same manner, there are some gases that we breathe in, that are harmful to us, in that when they are taken in large amount, would cause blood poisoning and eventually death. Amongst these gases is carbon monoxide (CO) .
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas. … CO is a common industrial hazard resulting from the incomplete burning of natural gas and any other material containing carbon such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, or wood.
• Carbon monoxide (sometimes referred to as CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning material containing carbon. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death. You can’t see it, smell it, or taste it; but carbon monoxide can kill you.
• Because carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas, it is known as the “silent killer.”
• Carbon monoxide is produced by common household appliances. When not properly ventilated, carbon monoxide emitted by these appliances can build up.Where is CO found?
CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel.
Sources of carbon monoxide:
• Gas water heaters
• Kerosene space heaters
• grills
• Propane heaters and stoves
• Gasoline and diesel powered generators
• smoke
• Propane-fueled forklifts
• Gasoline powered concrete saws
• Indoor tractor pulls
• Boats engines
• Spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint removers
• Smoke inhalation from a wildfire
• cars or
• trucks,
• small engines,
• stoves,
• lanterns,
• grills,
• fireplaces,
• gas ranges, or furnaces.
• Petrol Generators.

CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.

• The most common symptoms of  CO  poisoning are
• headache,
• dizziness,
• weakness,
• upset stomach,
• vomiting,
• chest pain, and
• confusion.
CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have  symptoms.

Those at risk:
Risks for exposure to carbon monoxide include
• Children riding in the back of enclosed pickup trucks (particularly high risk)
• Industrial workers at pulp mills, steel foundries, and plants producing formaldehyde or coke (a hard grey fuel)
• Personnel at fire scenes
• Using heating sources or electric generators during power outages
• Those working indoors with combustion engines or combustible gases
• Swimming near or under the stern or swim-step of a boat with the boat engine on .

Complications of carbon monoxide poisoning
Prolonged significant exposure to carbon monoxide can cause serious complications, including brain damage and heart problems. In very severe cases, it can result in death.
Effects of severe carbon monoxide poisoning include:
• breathlessness
• chest pains
• seizures (fits)
• loss of consciousness
Around 10-15% of people who have severe carbon monoxide poisoning develop long-term complications.
1. Brain damage
Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can cause memory problems and difficulty concentrating. It can also cause vision loss  and hearing loss
In rare cases, severe carbon monoxide poisoning can cause Parkinsonism, which is characterised by tremors , stiffness and slow movement.
Parkinsonism isn’t the same as  Parkinson’s disease which is a degenerative neurological condition linked to ageing.

1. Heart disease :
is another serious condition that can develop as a result of long-term carbon monoxide exposure.
Coronary heart disease is where the heart’s blood supply is blocked or interrupted by a build-up of fatty substances (atheroma) in the coronary arteries.
If the blood supply is restricted, it can cause chest pains . If the coronary arteries become completely blocked, it can cause a heart attack .

3. Harm to unborn babies
Long-term exposure to carbon monoxide gas can also damage an unborn baby. Babies exposed to carbon monoxide during pregnancy are at risk of:
• low birth weight
• perinatal death (stillbirth and death that occurs within the first four weeks of birth)
• behavioural problems

Seek medical advice from your doctor if you think you’ve been exposed to low levels of carbon monoxide. Act very quickly if you think you’ve been exposed to high levels.
Your symptoms will often indicate whether you have carbon monoxide poisoning, but a  blood test will confirm the amount of carboxyhaemoglobin in your blood. A level of 30% indicates severe exposure.
People who smoke can often have higher than normal levels of carboxyhaemoglobin in their blood, which can sometimes make it difficult to interpret the results.
Mild carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t usually need hospital treatment, but it’s still important that you seek medical advice.
Your house will also need to be checked for safety before anyone returns.

1. Standard oxygen therapy
Standard oxygen therapy in hospital will be needed if you’ve been exposed to a high level of carbon monoxide, or you have symptoms that suggest exposure.
You’ll be given 100% oxygen through a tight-fitting mask (normal air contains around 21% oxygen). Breathing in concentrated oxygen enables your body to quickly replace carboxyhaemoglobin. Therapy will continue until your carboxyhaemoglobin levels decrease to less than 10%.

1. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) floods the body with pure oxygen, helping it overcome the oxygen shortage caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
There’s currently insufficient evidence regarding the long-term effectiveness of HBOT for treating severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Therefore, standard oxygen therapy is usually the recommended treatment option.
HBOT may be recommended in certain situations – for example, if there’s been extensive exposure to carbon monoxide and nerve damage is suspected. The use of HBOT will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

This would vary from man to man .
The length of time it takes to recover from carbon monoxide poisoning will depend on how much carbon monoxide you’ve been exposed to and how long you’ve been exposed to it.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning:
It’s important to be aware of the dangers and identify any appliances in your house that could potentially leak carbon monoxide.
•    Maintaining and servicing appliances
Boilers, cookers, heating systems and appliances should be installed and regularly serviced by a reputable, registered engineer. Don’t attempt to install or service appliances yourself.
•    Engine exhaust fumes
To protect you from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust fumes:
•    don’t leave petrol-fuelled lawnmowers or cars running in the garage
•    make sure your car’s exhaust is checked every year for leaks
•    make sure your exhaust isn’t blocked before turning the engine on .
•    Carbon monoxide alarms
Install a carbon monoxide alarm in your home to alert you if there’s a carbon monoxide leak. However, an alarm isn’t a substitute for maintaining and regularly servicing household appliances.
The bottom line is that you should be vigilant , maintain all appliances using fuel and keep such appliances in well ventilated spaces.