Carbon monoxide (CO): All you need to know

Carbon monoxide, sometimes known as CO, is a silent killer. It doesn’t have a smell, a taste, or a sound. People and animals can’t tell when they’re inhaling it, but it’s deadly.

The by-product of combustion is carbon monoxide (CO). Gas fireplaces, oil-burning furnaces, portable generators, and charcoal grills, among other home goods, put people at danger of exposure to this deadly gas.

Every year, approximately 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning that is not caused by fires, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There have been over 20,000 visits to the emergency room and nearly 4,000 hospitalizations.

carbon monoxide alarm
A carbon monoxide alarm should be installed in every home.

Causes

Gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers, and open fires that use gas, oil, coal, or wood might all be potential CO gas sources. It occurs when the fuel does not completely burn.

CO poisoning may be caused by running an automobile engine in a closed space.

If household appliances are properly maintained and utilized securely, they should emit very little CO gas. CO emissions are increased when aging appliances are used and not serviced on a regular basis.

Other causes of CO gas emissions and accumulation include:

Smoking cigarettes causes blood levels of CO to rise.

  • Blocked flues and chimneys can stop CO from escaping.
  • Fumes from certain paint removers and cleaning fluids can cause CO poisoning.
  • Leaving a car in a closed garage with its engine running can produce deadly amounts of CO within 10 minutes.
  • Burning charcoal produces CO gas.

Methylene chloride (dichloromethane)-containing products should be handled with caution since when breathed in, it converts to CO.

Symptoms

Without a temperature, the individual may feel as if they have the flu. CO poisoning may be present if numerous people in the same building exhibit the same symptoms.

All cooking and heating equipment should be turned off, all windows should be opened, and the local gas safety authorities should be alerted if this occurs.

The symptoms of CO poisoning become more severe the longer a person is exposed to it.

A person may suffer the following symptoms within a few hours of first being exposed:

  • memory problems
  • eventual loss of consciousness
  • loss of balance
  • vision problems

If the symptoms are minor, there is a good possibility that you will recover completely.

Other signs and symptoms may appear weeks or months after breathing CO gas.

These are some of them:

  • coordination difficulties
  • memory problems
  • confusion

CO poisoning can have long-term consequences, including cardiac disease.

CO gas poisoning affects people more quickly if they have heart or respiratory difficulties. Pregnant women, infants, and small children are especially vulnerable.

Pets, too, will react quickly to CO poisoning. If a family pet becomes ill or dies abruptly, and the death cannot be attributed to anything else, such as age or a pre-existing condition, the owners should rule out CO poisoning as a possibility.

Effects

Hemoglobin is a substance found in red blood cells that transports oxygen from the lungs to all of the body’s tissues and returns carbon dioxide (CO2) to the lungs.

CO binds to hemoglobin over 200 times more effectively than oxygen, therefore if CO is present, oxygen will be unable to enter the hemoglobin. This is due to the presence of CO in the space.

Parts of the body will be deprived of oxygen as a result, and the damaged parts will die.

The human organism need oxygen, but CO is useless to it. CO does not give any advantage, but it does deplete the blood of oxygen.

Tennis player Vitas Gerulaitis died of CO poisoning in 1994. Because of a failure in the swimming pool heater, his cottage on Long Island, NY, was inundated with CO.

Someone who has been exposed to CO may realize that something is wrong, but they may not be sure what the problem is.

Diagnosis

It’s important to be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning.

These are some of them:

  • seasonal symptoms, which may be caused by a central heating system that is used only at certain times of the year
  • symptoms improving when a person is away from that environment, and reappearing when they return
  • a large proportion of people in the same environment developing the same symptoms

A doctor may order a blood test to check for abnormal carboxyhemoglobin levels, as well as an electrocardiogram (ECG) to see how effectively the heart pumps blood around the body.

Treatment

The first step is to get away from any potential CO gas sources and have your symptoms evaluated.

If the symptoms are severe, the person may need to be admitted to the hospital. To speed up the formation of oxyhemoglobin, which will replace the carboxyhemoglobin, hospital therapy involves 100% oxygen supplied through a mask.

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be recommended if the doctor fears nerve injury or if the patient has had a lot of CO exposure. To compensate for the shortage of oxygen produced by CO gas poisoning, this therapy supplies the blood with pure oxygen.

Patients whose oxygen supply has been lowered or cut off, those in a coma, those with a history of loss of consciousness, those with an atypical ECG reading or diminished brain activity, and pregnant women may all benefit from HBOT.

Complications

CO poisoning can have catastrophic and long-term consequences.

Damage to the brain might develop, resulting in a steady deterioration of memory and attention. CO poisoning has been connected to the symptoms of Parkinson’s disease on a very rare occasion. Stiffness, sluggish movements, and shaking are some of these symptoms.

Heart damage, including coronary heart disease, can occur if a person is exposed for an extended period of time.

Urinary incontinence can develop in women who have been exposed to a lot of CO gas.

Prevention

It’s important to understand the hazards of CO poisoning.

The following can assist in preventing CO gas leakage:

Maintain the condition of your equipment and use them carefully. Have them serviced by a competent and registered specialist on a regular basis.

  • Do not use charcoal on an indoor barbecue.
  • Never use a generator within 20 feet of a window, door or vent.
  • Service the exhaust pipe in a motor vehicle every year.
  • If the tailgate of a vehicle is open and the engine is running, open the doors and windows too.
  • Have chimneys and flues swept thoroughly regularly by a fully-qualified sweep, at least once a year.
  • Do not use gas ranges or ovens for heating.
  • Make sure all rooms are well ventilated and that vents are not blocked. Be especially careful in well-insulated environments.
  • Be careful when using gas-powered tools and equipment inside rooms.
  • Wear a mask when using products that contain methylene chloride.
  • Do not leave a gasoline-powered motor running in a garage, for example, motorbikes, cars, or lawn mowers.

Every home should have a CO alarm, according to the CDC. A digital readout is available on several detectors. When CO levels above a particular threshold, some emit a loud, high-pitched sound.

Long-term exposure to 1 to 70 ppm of CO does not generally cause harm, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission, although people with cardiac issues may have chest pain.

Over 70 parts per million (ppm) can induce visible symptoms, while levels between 150 and 200 ppm can cause confusion, unconsciousness, and death.

Every sleeping location in the house can be equipped with an alarm. Alarms should be inspected on a regular basis.

Sources:

  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/
  • https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm
  • https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/171876
  • https://www.cpsc.gov/s3fs-public/464.pdf

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