Quick Fact Sheet
THE HIDDEN DANGER OF CARBON MONOXIDE POISONING
- Confusion/Memory loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Abnormal reflexes
- Difficulty in coordinating
- Difficulty in breathing
- Chest Pain
- Cerebral Edema
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
Often, several members of the same family or those in a given building will complain of the same symptoms. Children are thought to be more susceptible to carbon monoxide poisoning than adults. Some people may not suspect that CO poisoning is occurring until major symptoms appear. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can mimic gastroenteritis (nausea and vomiting). Other manifestations may cause the appearance of what may appear to be a neurological or psychiatric disorder. High risk groups include infants, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a previous history of cardiac insufficiency or chronic obstructive lung disease.
Cerebral edema (swelling of the brain) is also a common result of severe carbon monoxide poisoning. This life threatening condition entails the destruction of brain cells by compressing them into themselves within the cranial compartment. Drugs that are normally used for the treatment of cerebral edema, like Dexamethasone and Mannitol, do not seem to be of assistance in the treatment of CO induced cerebral edema. Studies have shown that cerebral edema caused by CO poisoning can cause delayed neurological problems that involve the "higher" or cognitive functions, and may cause a Parkinsonian-like brain syndrome.
Other incidents have been reported in apartments where gas stoves are being used for heat. In at least one case, carbon monoxide poisoning was caused by the use of a charcoal grill within an apartment's bathtub. More than fifty percent (50%) of all carbon monoxide incidents occur within homes. Twenty percent (20%) of all incidents occur in businesses of various types.
- Move the victim(s) to fresh air, this will only relieve immediate symptoms of acute poisoning, remember if you have chronic poisoning that is low level and that has gone on for some time your deteriation may be gradual so it could be some time before you notice.
- Activate the Fire/Emergency Medical Service System, if victim(s) are experiencing any symptoms, if the fire department is called and they have the equipment ask them to record the CO PPM (parts per million of carbon monoxide in the air). This could be used to help your doctor diagnose your illness, also should you decide to pursue a legal claim may well help your legal team.
- Monitor for respiratory problems, get a COHb test to check for carbon monoxide levels in the blood.
- Ventilate the affected area
Upon arrival, it is recommended that Basic Life Support (BLS) (e.g. EMT) personnel should:
- Evaluate for respiratory tract irritation, bronchitis, or pneumonic.
- Administer humidified 100% oxygen by tight- fitting face mask. Assist ventilations as needed
- Monitor Vital Signs
- Monitor level of consciousness
- Consider early transport to a Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber for severely poisoned patients
- Place the patient in a position of comfort and keep them warm
It is recommended that Advanced Life Support (A.L.S.) (e.g. Paramedic) personnel should:
- Further evaluate the respiratory tract for dysfunction or possible compromise - intubate and assist ventilation as needed
- Draw a blood sample for Carboxyhemoglobin analysis
- Provide 100% humidified oxygen, do not delay administration of oxygen while performing blood sampling
- Administer normal saline or other crystalline parental fluids at 2/3 to 3/4 of normal maintenance rates
- Prepare for the possibility of generalized seizures in severe cases. Give diazepam (Valium) in 2-10 mg. doses (as needed) to terminate and control seizure activity
- Perform electrocardiogram monitoring of the patient, be especially aware of ventricular ectopic beats and heart blocks. EKG changes seen most commonly in CO patients are ST segment depression, T-wave abnormalities, atrial fibrillation, and PVCs.
- Any patient found unconscious, seizing, or with EKG changes and with an associated history should be treated as a severe carbon monoxide poisoning until proven otherwise
- Consider direct transport to a Hyperbaric Oxygen therapy facility, with Oxygen being administered enroute, for severely poisoned patients
- If the patient's history suggests any possibility of CO Poisoning, treat him/her as though they were exposed
PREVENTION AND CONCLUSIONS
Many lives could be saved and much disability prevented if citizens could learn to recognize and prevent the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. Preventive efforts such as checking furnace flues, chimneys, and vents could help to alleviate the hazard. The use of good common sense in not using open flames, ovens and other appliances not intended for heating, could reduce the number of carbon monoxide related incidents. It is also recommended that homeowners have their complete heating systems checked before every heating season.
Only by being aware of the peril, and understanding the nature of the hazard, can we help to prevent unnecessary exposures to deadly carbon monoxide. By understanding the mechanism of injury, we can be better prepared to treat the effects of this toxic product. In this way, it is expected that the number of people who succumb to carbon monoxide's "deadly clutches" can be reduced.