Carbon monoxide poisoning is a condition when a person is subjected to inhaling carbon monoxide released from combustion of fuel, wood or other flammable items in a completely or partially closed space. Usually when a flammable item is burnt, it releases carbon monoxide which is typically an unstable gas. It immediately combines with oxygen present in the air to form carbon dioxide. However in closed spaces or poorly ventilated spaces, the supply of oxygen remains poor and runs out very quickly during the release of carbon monoxide. Inhaling carbon monoxide is not only damages tissues in the body but can also lead to death.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning
- Inability to breath properly
- Blurred vision
- Weakness and dizziness
- Loss of consciousness
What happens when carbon monoxide is inhaled in closed spaces?
Carbon monoxide that is inhaled fills the red blood cells leaving no room for oxygen. This cuts down the supply of oxygen to other cells, tissues and muscles in the body including the brain. As the cells in the body and brain are deprived of oxygen, they start dying. Prolonged inhaling of carbon monoxide can lead to complete brain death or partial brain death. (Carbon monoxide enters red blood cells more easily than oxygen.)
Causes of carbon monoxide poisoning
The main reason for carbon monoxide poisoning is inhaling carbon monoxide in less ventilated or completely closed spaces. Inhaling small amounts of carbon monoxide is typically not a problem but as the concentration of carbon monoxide builds up, that could be dangerous.
There are certain risk factors that can present a threat of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Being pregnant and getting exposed to carbon monoxide. Unborn babies’ cells accept carbon monoxide more easily than adult blood cells. This can damage the baby’s tissues and cells including those that are present in the brain. This can lead to the death of the baby and can also lead to miscarriage.
- Children breathe more number of times than adults do. This can fill up blood cells with carbon monoxide faster than that in adults.
- Aged people are more prone to brain damage when they are exposed to carbon monoxide.
- People who work in closed spaces such as those near furnaces are more susceptible to inhaling carbon monoxide.
- People suffering from anaemia and/or heart problems are higher risk than normal healthy people.
Complications caused by carbon monoxide poisoning
The first damage will be to the tissues and cells including those present in the brain. Continuous inhaling of carbon monoxide damages part or majority of brain cells. This can first lead to unconsciousness and then death if not treated on time.
In less riskier conditions, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to heart problems, fetal death and miscarriage in case of pregnant women.
How to prevent or protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning?
- Install carbon monoxide detectors at home or in your workplace, especially in kitchen or pantry area.
- If you park your car in a garage, don’t turn on the engine with the garage door closed. Open the doors and let the fresh air in before turning car on.
- If you have a fire place at your home, make sure that it’s chimney is working properly.
- Always keep your barbeque grill in open space (in your front or backyard).
- If you have to burn wood at your home or anywhere else for any reason, keep the place well ventilated and stay a little away from the smoke zone.
Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning
When a person is exposed to carbon monoxide, he/she may lose consciousness and find it difficult to breathe. He/she may be put on oxygen to improve oxygen levels in the blood cells. The latest treatment for carbon monoxide treatment is the HBOT, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy.
In HBOT, the person is made to sit or lie down in a closed chamber that is filled with pure oxygen at pressure twice or even thrice that of normal atmospheric pressure. This pumps a lot more oxygen into the lungs and then into the red blood cells. As more oxygen is supplied, the red blood cells dissolve more oxygen and carry them to every cell that needs it.