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Carbon monoxide poisoning: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas which is colourless and odourless. It is generally produced by domestic or even industrial appliances, formed as a result of combustion of organic products. Carbon monoxide is also known as ‘silent killer’ since the exposed individual is unable to see or smell this toxic gas, resulting in an increased number of accidental morbidity and mortality worldwide.

Carbon monoxide poisoning: Incidence, age and sex

Carbon monoxide poisoning may be seen in an individual of any age and sex. It is a commonly encountered problem worldwide, and more so in industrialized nations. Moreover the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning is more during winters, probably due to the use of heating agents in ill-ventilated environments.

Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning: Diagnosis

Carbon monoxide poisoning results in generalised symptoms like dull aching headache, giddiness, weakness, nausea and vomiting. However, severity of symptoms may increase depending upon the exposure to the carbon monoxide gas, which leads to hypoxic (oxygen deprived) injury of body tissues, mainly affecting vital organs like the heart and the brain. This may result in low blood pressure, high heart rate, chest pain or abnormal rhythm of the heart. The affected individual may also experience hallucinations, mental confusion or may even fall unconscious.

It is very difficult to diagnose carbon monoxide poisoning since the affected individual is himself unaware of the exposure to the gas in most cases and the symptoms are usually flu-like and generalised, which further delays the diagnosis. However, tests like oxygen saturation and blood test to measure carboxyhaemoglobin may be done to detect and establish this condition.

Causes and prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide results from incomplete combustion of organic matter and its poisoning when such phenomenon occurs in an ill-ventilated environment. Cigarette smoke, vehicular exhaust, paint removers, fire, spray paints, are some common sources of this toxic gas. Household appliances like heaters, stoves, charcoal grills, if used in a closed environment carry an increased risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Individuals, especially children if stuck in a closed car or pick-up trucks have high chances of acute carbon monoxide poisoning.

Carbon monoxide poisoning may be prevented by using the above stated appliances in a well-ventilated environment. It is also advisable to wear mouth masks while working with spray paints or paint removers to avoid inhalation of toxic gases. Swimmers are advised to avoid swimming directly behind motor boats to avoid inhaling its exhaust. Moreover, carbon monoxide detectors may also be installed in residential and industrial buildings to detect increased levels of the toxic gas.

Carbon monoxide poisoning on: Complications

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a serious condition, which may affect the heart and the brain, resulting in not only in morbidity but also has high chances of death from cardiac failure. Some of the common complications are seizures, cardiac arrest, unconsciousness, or metabolic acidosis. Exposure to carbon monoxide has also been known to lead to fatal complications in pregnant women.

Carbon monoxide poisoning: Treatment

The first and foremost step in the treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning is the removal of the affected individual from the source of carbon monoxide gas. Medical treatment is started immediately and includes administration of high dose oxygen via facemask. This helps in replenishing the oxygen levels in the body tissues. Continuous evaluation of levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is done to monitor the condition. In severe cases of poisoning, hyperbaric oxygen may be administered to the affected individual. The treatment of complications may require relevant medical treatment in the hospital.