by Kimberly Allen, RN
With the severe cold trend that’s been hitting much of the country many people are using a variety of heaters to stay warm. Worldwide, carbon monoxide poisoning is the number one cause of death and injury due to poisoning.
Though it’s difficult to get an accurate number on the number of carbon monoxide poisonings every year, because there are many non-lethal exposures that never get reported, estimates are that approximately 50,000 people in the US every year go to the emergency room with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. According to the CDC over 500 people in the US die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning is also used as a method of suicide claiming over 2,000 lives every year in the US alone.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless , odorless and tasteless gas that is produced by many common household appliances, particularly certain heaters and improperly vented fireplaces and wood stoves. Which is of particular concern during the winter and especially with severe cold spells like the ones much of the country is experiencing . Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs because you breath in more carbon monoxide than your body can get rid of. The carbon monoxide then attaches to the hemoglobin in your blood stream, which is responsible for carrying the oxygen through out your body. As you breath in more carbon monoxide and it attach’s the hemoglobin it crowds out the oxygen reducing the amount of oxygen being delivered through out your body. It’s the oxygen deprivation that causes the damage.
One of the problems with carbon monoxide poisoning is that the symptoms resemble numerous other conditions one being the flu. With the flu and norovirus going around many people mistake the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning as the flu. The first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache and fatigue with nausea and malaise. Sound familiar? However, the headache in carbon monoxide poisoning is more of a continuous dull ache in the frontal area. As your exposure increase you will develop cardiac symptoms like a rapid heart beat and low blood pressure as well as an irregular heart rhythm. Then there’s the onset of neurological symptoms like dizziness and confusion, poor co ordination and difficulty walking.
Another major concern when it comes to carbon monoxide poisoning is the long term effects. This is of particular concern for those that have no idea they were exposed to carbon monoxide. In most of these cases people were exposed to levels of carbon monoxide that are too high to be safe but low enough to produce minimal symptoms for several hours then they leave the contaminated environment. Doing this repeatedly like in a work situation can lead to a build up of carbon monoxide in the blood stream. This can lead to long term problems like short term memory loss, amnesia and dementia as well as other Parkinson’s like symptoms.
The treatment of carbon monoxide is oxygen therapy. The first thing the emergency room staff will do when you present with symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning is initiate oxygen therapy usually through a mask that will be placed over your nose and mouth. If you are unconscious and having difficulty breathing on your own you will be placed on a ventilator. If the carbon monoxide poisoning is severe and there is a hyperbaric oxygen chamber available the Dr may recommend that you spend some time in the chamber.
The best way to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide detectors through out your home on all floors. It’s also important to check the batteries at least twice a year to be sure they’re functioning. Always remember to open your garage door before starting your vehicle and if you have a door that leads from the garage directly into your house be sure that door is closed tight.y. Never use portable gas heaters inside and fuel burning space heater s should only be used if someone is awake and monitoring it. There also needs to be a window or door open for ventilation. Also, many people use generators when the the power goes off, never, ever use a generator in an enclosed area.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.