Carbon monoxide is recognized as ‘the silent killer.’ This is because it has no odor, no taste and emits no sound. Humans and animals don’t know they’re breathing it until they develop symptoms of illness. But just what is carbon monoxide and how can you spot the symptoms and find ways to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning at home?
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a by-product that comes from common household items such as furnaces, gas fires, generators and even barbecues and charcoal grills.
The effects of carbon monoxide
Carbon Monoxide binds to your red blood cells two hundred times more easily than oxygen does, so it’s easy to see how toxic it can be and how quickly it can make you ill. When enough Carbon Monoxide is ingested during poisoning, various parts of the body will become starved of oxygen and they will die off.
What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Often, symptoms present just as they would with a case of the flu. However, there may not be a high temperature. Sometimes, all the people who share the same space will develop the same symptoms at the same time. This is a clear signal Carbon Monoxide poisoning has occurred. If this is suspected, turn off all heating appliances, cookers, and electricals. Open all the windows and immediately notify the gas safety authority in your area.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide poisoning include a loss of balance, issues with vision, loss of memory, loss of consciousness, flu-like symptoms and headache.
More serious cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can cause severe long term health issues like heart and lung damage. In fact, people who have heart or respiratory problems might find they are more quickly affected than those who do not. Similarly, pregnant women, small children and the elderly are all more likely to feel the effects of poisoning much more quickly.
What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?
Appliances found in the house, such as fires, gas fires, boilers and furnaces can all be sources of carbon monoxide gas. It occurs when fuel does not burn fully. There are other causes of poisoning, such as leaving a car engine running in an enclosed space.
It’s important to remember that if household appliances are all well maintained and looked after, with regular servicing, carbon monoxide poisoning is highly unlikely. Using old, ill-maintained appliances leads to a much higher chance of developing problems.
How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?
If a large number of people in the same environment suddenly develop the symptoms mentioned above, and they all improve when they leave that same environment, and return when they enter the space again, then there is a high chance that carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred.
A doctor may request a blood test, which can detect unusual levels of carboxyhemoglobin in the bloodstream. Sometimes they may also request an ECG to see how well the heart is pumping blood in the body.
Treating carbon monoxide poisoning
Once a patient has been assessed and diagnosed, they may be hospitalized and given pure oxygen through a mask. If nerve damage has occurred, then hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) may be offered as well. This floods the bloodstream with pure oxygen to make up for what has been lost during the poisoning.
Many patients receive treatment and return to full health very quickly. Although scary, carbon monoxide poisoning can be eminently treatable if caught in time.