Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
by Debra Wood, RN
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be a deadly condition. It results from inhaling carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide is produced when gas, wood, charcoal, or other fuel is burned. It often builds up when fuel-burning heating and cooking devices are faulty or not properly vented. A car engine can also produce carbon monoxide, as can cigarette smoking. Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas. People can inhale it without knowing.
Once the gas is inhaled, it is easily absorbed through the lungs. Hemoglobin carries oxygen in the blood to the entire body. Carbon monoxide binds tightly with hemoglobin and takes the place of the oxygen. Tissue then becomes starved for oxygen. Brain tissue is very much at risk.
Inhaling carbon monoxide gas causes carbon monoxide poisoning.
People can be exposed to the gas when fuel-burning appliances are broken or are not vented properly. For instance:
Risk Factors TOP
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Risk factors for carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Symptoms related to carbon monoxide poisoning are usually vague. They can be split into acute (immediate) and chronic symptoms.
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. You will be asked questions about:
Tests may include:
Move away from the source of the carbon monoxide. Breathe fresh air outdoors. Mild symptoms usually start to resolve after getting away from the gas.
Seek medical care at the closest emergency room. Explain that you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide. The doctor may give you oxygen until your symptoms go away and carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop.
Other therapies may include:
Avoiding exposure to carbon monoxide is the key to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning. Since the gas has no odor or color, you will not know if it is present. The following suggestions can reduce your risk of exposure:
United States Consumer Product Safety Commission
United States Environmental Protection Agency
Public Health Agency of Canada
Breimer LH, Mikhailidis DP. Could carbon monoxide and bilirubin be friends as well as foes of the body? Scand J Clin Lab Invest. 2010;70(1):1-5.
Carbon monoxide poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/co. Updated April 2009. Accessed July 13, 2009.
Cecil RL, Goldman L, et al. Cecil Textbook of Medicine. 21st ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2000.
Conn HF, Rakel RE, et al. Conn's Current Therapy 2001. 53rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: WB Saunders Company; 2001.
Ferri F, ed. Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2010. Philadelphia, PA: Mosby Elsevier; 2009.
Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds Cecil Textbook of Internal Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders; 2008.
Harrison TR, Fauci AS. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 14th ed. New York, NY: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2000.
An introduction to indoor air quality: carbon monoxide (CO). Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html. Updated April 2009. Accessed July 13, 2009.
Juurlink DN, Buckley NA, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen for carbon monoxide poisoning. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005;(1):CD002041.
Marx J, Hockberger R, et al. Rosen's Emergency Medicine. 7th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby; 2009.
Rakel R. Textbook of Family Medicine 2007. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.
Rakel R, Bope E. Conn's Current Therapy. 60th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2009.
Rosen P, Barkin RM, et al. Emergency Medicine: Concepts and Clinical Practice. 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby-Year Book, Inc.; 1998.
Weaver LK, Hopkins RO, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen for acute carbon monoxide poisoning. N Engl J Med. 2002; 347:1057-1067.
World Health Organization (WHO) Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation. Waterpipe tobacco smoking: health effects, research needs and recommended actions by regulators. World Health Organization website. Available at: http://www.who.int.... Published 2005. Accessed August 29, 2011.
Last reviewed October 2012 by Peter Lucas, MD
Last Updated: 10/11/2012