Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas. Too much carbon monoxide in the air you breathe can greatly diminish your ability to absorb of oxygen, leading to serious — and potentially fatal — tissue damage. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional death from poison.
Carbon monoxide is produced by appliances and other devices that produce combustion fumes, such as those that burn gas or other petroleum products, wood and other fuels. The danger occurs when too much carbon monoxide accumulates in a contained, poorly ventilated space. Simple precautions can save your life.
Although the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can be subtle, the condition is a life-threatening medical emergency. Get immediate care for anyone who may have carbon monoxide poisoning.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
Carbon monoxide poisoning can be especially dangerous for people who are sleeping or intoxicated. The fumes may be fatal before anyone realizes there's a problem.
When to see a doctor
Carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by inhaling combustion fumes. When there's too much carbon monoxide in the air, your body replaces the oxygen in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells with carbon monoxide. This keeps life-sustaining oxygen from reaching your tissues and organs.
Various appliances fueled by wood or gas produce carbon monoxide, including:
Normally the amount of carbon monoxide produced by these sources isn't cause for concern. But if appliances aren't kept in good working order or if they're used in a closed or partially closed space — such as using a charcoal grill indoors or running your car in a closed garage — the carbon monoxide can build to dangerous levels. Even swimming behind a motorboat or riding in the back of an enclosed pickup truck can be dangerous.
Smoke inhalation during a fire also can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
Exposure to carbon monoxide from combustion fumes is dangerous for anyone. Some people are more susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide, including:
Depending on the degree and length of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause:
Preparing for your appointment
If you or someone you're with develops signs or symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning — headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, confusion — get into fresh air immediately and call 911 or emergency medical help.
Hospital staff will need critical information as soon as you arrive. On the way to the hospital, try to prepare to answer questions about:
Tests and diagnosis
If the doctor suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, a blood sample will be taken to measure the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood.
Treatments and drugs
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency. Treatment is aimed at replacing the carbon monoxide in your blood with oxygen as quickly as possible. 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 replacement of carbon monoxide with oxygen in your blood.
Simple precautions can help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Consider the following:
If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred in your home, it's critical to find and repair the source of the carbon monoxide before you return. Your local fire department or utility company can help.
Last Updated: 2010-01-12
© 1998-2014 Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research (MFMER). All rights reserved. A single copy of these materials may be reprinted for noncommercial personal use only. "Mayo," "Mayo Clinic," "MayoClinic.com," "Mayo Clinic Health Information," "Reliable information for a healthier life" and the triple-shield Mayo logo are trademarks of Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research.
Terms and conditions of use