Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless poisonous gas that can be detrimental to the human health. CO inhibits the normal oxygen transfer to the tissues and organs in the body to properly function. The central nervous system can experience a complete shut down and many functions in the body will not take place. CO poisoning can even lead to death if precautions are not taken immediately.
How does it happen?
The red blood cells in the bloodstream contain a red pigment called hemoglobin. Oxygen reversibly binds with hemoglobin so that it is can be ‘picked up’ from the lungs and ‘dropped’ in the respective organs that need it for energy. CO, however, has a higher affinity for hemoglobin and binds irreversibly to it. CO remains stagnant in the red blood cells and oxygen transport is drastically inhibited. This means the person suffering from CO poisoning has organs and tissues that are starved of oxygen.
The only way CO can be removed from the blood cells is increasing the pressure of oxygen by increasing its quantity. The casualty will have to breathe high concentrations of oxygen to recover his blood cells. In extremely severe cases, victims are treated under barometer chambers where they are given 100% oxygen at high pressures.
The elderly, children, infants and pregnant women are most vulnerable of suffering from severe carbon monoxide poisoning.
Sources of carbon monoxide
CO is produced from the following sources:
- Natural gas
- Tobacco smoke
- Automobile exhaust
- Blocked chimneys
- Gas powered equipment
Signs and symptoms of CO poisoning
Effects are same as conditions related to the central nervous system. If the following signs and symptoms appear, immediate help is necessary:
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Impaired coordination (the person may keep falling or knocking on objects)
- Vomiting and nausea
- Cardiac arrest
- The best treatment you can give the casualty is freeing him from the poisoned zone. Take him outside where there is fresh air to prevent the condition from getting worse.
- If there are people in the building, initiate a prompt evacuation and make sure everyone is out of the building.
- Call for immediate medical help and report them about the incident.
- Carry on with first aid until help arrives:
- Do not treat the burns with ice or cold water
- Elevate burnt parts above heart level
- Do not remove burnt clothing
- Look for signs of breathing, circulation and consciousness e.g. breathing and coughing. If the person is not breathing or is unconscious, begin CPR till help arrives.
- Cover the burns with a cold, moist sterile cloth.
Find where the CO originated from and fix the problem. Make sure you are safe while doing so.
- Use non-electric heaters in areas where there is adequate ventilation
- Make sure you clean your fireplace every year
- Do not use non-electric heaters of lanterns in rooms while sleeping, with limited ventilation
- Do not leave a car running in an enclosed space
To learn more about treating and managing breathing emergencies you can take a “hands on” first aid course with St Mark James. To locate a provider near you visit our training provider page by clicking here: https://standardfirstaidtraining.ca/locations/