Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: What To Do?

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas. Inhalation often causes smoke poisoning, but treatment is easy and efficient if you become aware of it early on. Otherwise this poisoning can lead to death in a short time.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: What To Do?

Carbon monoxide or carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless breath poison that is very dangerous and toxic. It arises from the incomplete combustion of carbonaceous substances when insufficient oxygen is supplied. In residential buildings, for example, carbon monoxide forms in gas burners, leaky chimneys and stoves, poorly adjusted boilers, gas stoves, radiant heaters with propane gas, emissions from wood pellets, etc. For this reason, carbon monoxide poisoning is not uncommon

It’s a substance that goes unnoticed. That is why poisoning and death occur again and again. Most of these accidents could be prevented by regularly checking the boiler, gas burner, fireplace, chimney and other equipment. In addition, there is also an alert that is very useful. A carbon monoxide detector monitors the CO concentration in the ambient air and detects even very small amounts.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency, but it is often not recognized in time. We will therefore explain the most important things you should know about this topic afterwards.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: How Does It Come About?

Carbon monoxide is produced during everyday activities in the household: for example when grilling or heating in winter. This happens especially when the devices are not properly maintained. It should not be forgotten in this context that some people also intentionally inhale this breath poison in order to commit suicide.

What effects does carbon monoxide have on the body?

Erythrocytes (red blood cells), which contain the protein hemoglobin, which is responsible for transporting oxygen, circulate in the blood  This protein absorbs the oxygen in the lungs and supplies the body tissues with oxygen via the bloodstream.

The toxicity of carbon monoxide is due to the fact that this substance has a stronger affinity for hemoglobin than for oxygen. As a result, the carbon monoxide binds firmly to hemoglobin and prevents this protein from absorbing oxygen. The oxygen supply to the body is therefore at risk, which is known in technical terms as tissue hypoxia.

Carbon monoxide poisoning

What Symptoms Does Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Produce?

The severity of symptoms depends on the amount of carbon monoxide inhaled and the duration of exposure. Experts distinguish two types of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Acute intoxication:  those affected breathe in large quantities of the gas.
  • Chronic intoxication:  The inhaled concentrations are low, but present over a long period of time.

The symptoms caused by the lack of oxygen supply  include:

  • a headache
  • dizziness
  • weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Chest pain
  • Cardiac arrhythmia
  • Difficulty breathing
  • confusion
  • sleepiness

If this situation is not discovered and treated in a timely manner, a coma can result. Carbon monoxide intoxication is therefore particularly dangerous in people who are drunk or asleep, as it can cause irreversible brain damage or death if no one is aware of the poisoning.

  • Difficulty learning and storing data in memory
  • Emotional changes, such as depression
  • Sensory and motor disorders, such as difficulty moving, loss of sensitivity, etc.

In most cases  , the affected patient is not consciously aware of these symptoms,  i.e. he is not aware that it is carbon monoxide poisoning, since this gas, as already mentioned, is odorless, colorless and tasteless.

Man with carbon monoxide poisoning

What to do with carbon monoxide poisoning

If you think someone may have poisoned themselves with carbon monoxide, do the following:

  • The person concerned must leave the room in which the gas is accumulating as quickly as possible.
  • It is particularly important to open doors and windows to let in fresh air.
  • Heating, furnace, gas systems, etc. must be switched off.

As soon as the person concerned is in a safe room, you call the emergency number. At the hospital, doctors will examine the person to check the levels of carbon monoxide in their blood and start treatment immediately.

Treatment in hospital

The patient is given pure oxygen to enable the carbon monoxide to be eliminated as quickly as possible and to reverse the hypoxia. The oxygen is administered through a mask through the nose and mouth and can thus get into the body tissues.

Overpressure chamber

In some cases, doctors use a hyperbaric chamber to deliver pure oxygen to the patient under increased ambient pressure by means of hyperbaric oxygen therapy. This allows the oxygen supply to be increased and the carbon monoxide to be discharged more quickly. 

Preventive action

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend the following precautions:

  • Heaters, gas systems and other devices in which combustion processes take place must be properly installed and serviced by professionals. Proper use is of course also essential.
  • In the case of a fireplace, the hood should work well and should be checked and cleaned regularly.
  • Ancillary devices that operate on fuel and have no ventilation  should only be used while someone is awake and able to check them. The doors or windows of the room should be open so that fresh air is guaranteed.
  • Car exhaust systems must also be checked regularly  to identify possible defects, especially in winter.

A carbon monoxide detector that works with batteries and reports possible dangers is also recommended. Don’t forget to check regularly that the batteries are still working. If the detector sounds the alarm, you leave the house and call the emergency number.

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