Carbon monoxide poisoning can be fatal. It happens after inhaling carbon monoxide (CO) gas. CO is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas. It can be easily inhaled without anyone knowing about it. This gas is released when gas, wood, coal or other fuels are burned. Gas cookers, faulty heaters, and poor ventilation are common causes.
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Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling CO gas. Exposure can happen when any gas appliance is faulty or poorly ventilated such as:
CO is easily absorbed through the lungs. It binds to things in the blood and takes the place of the oxygen. The body does not get enough oxygen to function. Brain cells are at highest risk of damage.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is more common in infants or older people. Other factors that may increase your risk of 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 symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include:
Before medical care:
Stay away from the source of the carbon monoxide. Breathe fresh air outdoors. Mild symptoms usually improve after getting away from the gas.
Always seek medical care at the closest emergency room. The doctor will give you oxygen until your symptoms go away and carbon monoxide levels in your blood drop.
Other therapies may include:
CO has no odor or color, you will not know if it is present. The following can reduce your chance of exposure:
US Consumer Product Safety Commission
US Environmental Protection Agency
Public Health Agency of Canada
Indoor air quality. Environmental Protection Agency website. Available at: http://www.epa.gov/iaq/co.html. Accessed September 25, 2020.
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Carbon monoxide poisoning. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/co/default.htm. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Carbon monoxide toxicity. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115658/Carbon-monoxide-toxicity. Accessed September 25, 2020.
Juurlink DN, Buckley NA, et al. Hyperbaric oxygen for carbon monoxide poisoning. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2005;(1):CD002041.
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Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Last Updated: 9/25/2020