Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Health Care and Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

This time of year, thousands of Americans suffer from carbon monoxide poisoning. According to eDocAmerica, carbon monoxide is a compound composed of carbon and oxygen and has the chemical formula - CO. It is a highly poisonous gas that when inhaled can result in asphyxiation. Carbon monoxide is formed when carbon-containing substances (gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or charcoal) are burned with insufficient amounts of air. Automobiles, space heaters, ranges, ovens, stoves, furnaces, fireplaces, water heaters, and clothes dryers are all common sources of carbon monoxide production. CO poisoning can occur if appliances are not working or vented properly and dangerous levels of CO build up.

Information from eDocAmerica tells what causes CO poisoning. Red blood cells are responsible for transporting oxygen to the body. Since blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen, if there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death. Carbon monoxide is a clear, colorless gas, so it can be very difficult to detect. At moderate levels, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Higher levels of CO inhalation can result in loss of consciousness and death. Some people have been fooled into thinking that their symptoms were due to a cold or flu, whereas they were really experiencing CO toxicity. Each year, approximately 400 people die from CO poisoning and another 20,000 seek emergency treatment in an Emergency Room. The risk of succumbing to CO poisoning is highest among the elderly, those with chronic respiratory or heart problems, children and people with anemia. If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows to ventilate the house and turn off all fuel-burning appliances. Go to an Emergency Room as quickly as possible and inform the staff that you suspect CO poisoning. A fairly simple blood test that measures the level of a compound called carboxyhemogloin can be done to help confirm the diagnosis.

The Centers for Disease Control has offered the following suggestions to help prevent CO poisoning:
--Have your fuel-burning appliances (oil and gas furnaces, gas water heaters, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, and wood stoves) inspected by a professional at the beginning of every heating season.
--Choose appliances that vent their fumes to the outside and make sure that they've been properly installed.
--Read and follow instruction manuals that accompany fuel-burning devices.
--Don't idle the car in a garage, even if the garage door is open
--Don't use a gas oven to heat your home, even for a short time.
--Don't use a charcoal grill indoors, even in a fireplace.
--Don't sleep in any room with an unvented gas or kerosene space heater
--Don't ignore symptoms, particularly if more than one person is experiencing them.

CO detectors should not be a substitute for proper use and maintenance of your fuel-burning appliances according to eDocAmerica. While many authorities recommend their use, it should be realized that the sensitivity and reliability of these devices varies greatly. Be sure that any CO detector that you buy has received UL certification. Check the batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries - at least twice a year. If an alarm sounds make sure that it is the CO detector rather than the smoke alarm. If anyone in the home is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning take them to an Emergency Room right away. If no one is experiencing symptoms, ventilate the house and turn off all fuel-burning appliances. Have a qualified technician inspect the home for potential sources of CO production.


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that has no odor or color according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). But it is very dangerous. It can cause sudden illness and death. CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those made by cars and trucks, lanterns, stoves, gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these fumes can build up in places that don't have a good flow of fresh air. You can be poisoned by breathing them in. It is often hard to tell if someone has CO poisoning, because the symptoms may be like those of other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms. And, according to the Mayo Clinic, carbon monoxide fumes are dangerous for anyone. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide, including:
--Unborn babies
--Infants
--Older adults
--People who smoke
--People who have chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems.

The Mayo Clinic also reports that depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause:
--Permanent brain damage
--Damage to your heart, possibly leading to life-threatening cardiac complications years after the poisoning
--Death
The goal of treatment is to replace the carbon monoxide in your blood with oxygen. In the hospital, you may breathe pure oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth. This helps oxygen reach your organs and tissues. If you can't breathe on your own, a machine (ventilator) may do the breathing for you. In some cases, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is recommended. With this therapy, you're placed in a full-body pressurized chamber. Inside the chamber, air pressure is more than twice as high as normal atmospheric pressure. This speeds the removal of carbon monoxide from your blood.

The Mayo Clinic also offers some simple precautions that can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Consider these do's and don'ts:
1.) Invest in carbon monoxide detectors. Install a carbon monoxide detector on every floor or level of your home. Install additional detectors outside individual bedrooms. Check the batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries — at least twice a year. If the alarm sounds, leave the house and call the fire department or local utility company from a nearby phone.
2.) Open the garage door before starting your car. Never run your car in a closed garage. If you have an attached garage, keep the garage door open and the door to the house firmly closed while the car is running. Remove snow or other debris from the tailpipe before using the car.
3.) Use gas appliances as recommended. Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home. Use portable gas camp stoves only outdoors. Use fuel-burning space heaters only when someone is awake to monitor them and doors or windows are open to provide fresh air. Don't run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement or garage.
4.) Keep your gas appliances and fireplace in good repair. Make sure your appliances are properly vented. Clean your fireplace chimney and flue every year. Ask your utility company about yearly checkups for any gas appliances.

Finally, use common sense--a great option when in doubt. Carbon Monoxide poisoning can kill. Check your home for the potential hazards related to it and fix whatever is broken so you or a family member are not a story on the evening news. The fall and winter are prime times for carbon monoxide poisoning to happen because of weather and other seasonal events. Follow your instruction guides and make sure that you do the right thing when exposure to this gas is a possibility at any time.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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