Carbon monoxide is dangerous stuff. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to severe tissue damage and quickly become fatal.
Once detected, immediate treatment is vital. Even without the early signs, the person should undergo proper tests to check the level of oxygen in the tissues and the bloodstream. When inhaled in large quantities, carbon monoxide can be deadly.
Learn what to look for and what to do in the event of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is colourless, odourless, and without taste. Once a person breathes this in, it quickly enters the bloodstream and binds with hemoglobin – a critical component within your blood. It will then form a compound known as carboxyhaemoglobin.
The carbon monoxide will start competing with the oxygen in the body for hemoglobin. And with a six times greater affinity bind with hemoglobin, it has a hugely unfair advantage – meaning the oxygen in your bloodstream can’t really compete.
With the hemoglobin no longer carrying oxygen through the bloodstream, the blood is now depleted of oxygen, which will quickly result in the cells suffering and eventually dying.
Deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning happen in Australia, which has been evident over the past years. It mostly comes from fuel-burning appliances such as gas heaters, water heaters, gas stoves, tobacco smoke, and infiltration of car exhaust from closed-spaced garages.
Emissions in unventilated spaces and burning wood or charcoal inside the house, vehicle, and even deaths can also lead to carbon-monoxide deaths. It is the cause of hundreds of emergency room visits every year.
Signs And Symptoms
When determining if someone is suffering from low-level (or even high-level) carbon monoxide poisoning, look for the following symptoms.
- Dizziness, nausea, or vomiting
- Tension-type headache
- Sudden confusion
- Stomach pain
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Flu-like symptoms (without the high temperature)
- Loss of balance, vision, and blurry memory
- Loss of consciousness
- Worsening of symptoms
Breathing in a large amount of carbon monoxide will begin to replace the oxygen in the bloodstream with CO. This can lead to the person losing consciousness, or worse, death.
Get medical help right away after exposure or accidental intake of carbon monoxide, even without apparent symptoms.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a real threat to everyone. However, some groups are at higher risk than others, such as pregnant women, asthma and other respiratory issues, and heart-related problems.
Newborns and toddlers are also vulnerable due to their size and weaker symptoms. Long term exposure to carbon monoxide can also harm an unborn baby.
First Aid For Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Immediate first aid is essential in a CO poisoning emergency. Giving appropriate care in the critical minutes before the arrival of emergency services can help save lives.
If a newborn, a toddler, or another person shows symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, call for help, then do the following steps.
- If in enclosed or unventilated space, leave the area immediately. Turn off the CO source only if it is safe to do so without endangering oneself and others. Get fresh air as soon as possible.
- Call Triple Zero (000) or have another person contact the local emergency medical service (EMS).
- If the person stops breathing, administer CPR and do not stop until they restore normal breaths.
If alone, perform CPR for at least a minute, then call emergency services.
- Further treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is upon the doctor’s recommendation. The person may undergo blood tests, X-rays, heart and neurological evaluation, and oxygen therapy.
Avoiding this type of emergency can require a little effort.
Regularly inspect or change the batteries if there is a CO detector at home or workplace. Always have a battery back up in storage.
When it comes to the heating systems and other coal-burning appliances, have a professional technician service it at least every year. Keep the vents and flues free of debris that blocks the ventilation lines.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is entirely preventable. Protect oneself and others by learning the symptoms, the fundamentals of emergency care, and strategies for prevention.
Learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning and other emergencies in a first aid course