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.
Carbon Monoxide Binding to Hemoglobin
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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:
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
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Last reviewed October 2012 by Peter Lucas, MD
Last Updated: 10/11/2012