Carbon monoxide

Definition 
Poisoning from inhalation of carbon monoxide.

Where Found 

     
  • any combustion engine such as automobile engines emit carbon monoxide in the exhaust  
  • portable propane heaters  
  • barbecues burning charcoal (charcoal should never be burned indoors!)  
  • portable or non-vented natural gas appliances/furnaces/water heaters

Note: This list may not be all inclusive.

Symptoms 

     
  • headache  
  • irritability  
  • confusion  
  • fainting  
  • impaired judgment  
  • unconsciousness  
  • bizarre behavior  
  • shortness of breath  
  • rapid breathing  
  • no breathing  
  • chest pain  
  • nausea and vomiting  
  • abnormal heart beat  
  • rapid heart beat  
  • low blood pressure  
  • hyperactivity  
  • convulsions  
  • coma  
  • shock

Home Treatment 

Get the individual out into fresh air and ventilate the area. Call an ambulance immediately. Artificial breathing may need to be administered if the individual has stopped breathing.

Prevention

     
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your residence, and an additional detector near any major gas-burning appliances (such as a furnace or water heater).  
  • Conduct regular maintenance and inspection of gas-burning equipment in the home.

Before Calling Emergency 
Determine the following information:

     
  • the patient’s age, weight, and condition  
  • how long they may have been exposed to the carbon monoxide, if known

Poison Control, or a local emergency number 
Poison control will instruct you if it is necessary to take the patient to the hospital. See poison control centers for the national telephone number.

What to expect at the emergency room 
Some or all of the following may be performed:

     
  • oxygen will be administered  
  • vital signs will be monitored  
  • various medications may be administered if needed  
  • hyperbaric oxygen therapy at an appropriate facility

Expectations (prognosis) 
If the individual recovers, it will be slowly. Depending on the exposure levels of carbon monoxide and the time of exposure, permanent brain damage may occur. If the individual still has symptoms of impaired mental ability after two weeks, the likelihood of complete recovery is not very good. Even if an individual is symptom free for a while, impaired mental ability can reappear within the first 1-2 weeks.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.