Carbon monoxide poisoning is an illness that is caused by breathing in (inhaling) carbon monoxide gas. Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas. When the gas is inhaled, it quickly enters the bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches your organs and cells. This can quickly become a life-threatening problem.
Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency. The elderly or people who have heart disease or lung disease are more likely to experience worse effects from carbon monoxide poisoning.
What Are The Causes?
This condition is often caused by inhaling exhaust fumes from fuel-burning sources. Burning any fuel that contains carbon (gasoline, coal, charcoal, wood) releases carbon monoxide into the air. Sources of carbon monoxide fumes include:
- motor exhaust from cars, motorcycles, and boats.
- cigarette smoke.
- propane-powered tools and vehicles.
- gas-powered tools and other industrial equipment.
- gas stove tops and grills.
Without proper air flow (ventilation), carbon monoxide can build up in an enclosed or partially enclosed area. For example, carbon monoxide poisoning can result from:
- a camping stove being used indoors.
- a car left running in a closed garage.
What Are The Signs Or Symptoms?
Symptoms of this condition include:
- weakness and fatigue
- chest pain
- shortness of breath
- difficulty walking
- jerky movements that you cannot control (seizures).
How Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Diagnosed?
This condition may be diagnosed based on:
- your symptoms.
- your medical history and your history of possible carbon monoxide exposure.
- a test of your carbon monoxide blood levels using a finger probe (carbon monoxide oximeter).
- blood tests to confirm the diagnosis.
- you may need more blood tests and imaging tests to check your lungs, heart, and brain for any damage caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
How Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Treated?
The first step of treatment is to get to fresh air immediately and remove yourself from the dangerous environment. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment with oxygen therapy. Oxygen can be delivered through:
- a face mask
- breathing tubes that fit under your nostrils
- a breathing tube that is placed down your throat (endotracheal tube), in severe cases.
- a hyperbaric chamber, in some severe cases. A hyperbaric chamber is a clear, cylindrical, enclosed space. You lie inside of the chamber, and oxygen is pumped into the chamber. This speeds up the process in which oxygen is absorbed and replaces the carbon monoxide in your blood.
Follow These Instructions At Home:
- Do not return to the area where you were exposed to carbon monoxide. The area must be thoroughly ventilated before it is safe to return.
- Do not use any products that contain nicotine or tobacco, such as cigarettes and e-cigarettes. If you need help quitting, ask your healthcare provider.
- Return to your normal activities as instructed by your health care provider. Ask your healthcare provider what activities are safe for you.
- Keep all follow-up visits as instructed by your healthcare provider. This is important.
How Can Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Be Prevented?
- Install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. Change the batteries every six months.
- Have all gas stoves and furnaces inspected once a year.
- Have the exhaust system in your car checked once a year.
- Do not keep a car's motor running in a closed garage.
- Do not sleep in a car with the motor running.
- Make sure all rooms that are heated with gasoline, coal, charcoal, or wood are properly ventilated.
Get Help Right Away If:
You think that you or someone else has inhaled carbon monoxide gas. If this happens, get away from the area immediately and seek medical help right away. Do not drive yourself to the hospital. Call:
- Your local emergency services (Tel: 999 in Malaysia)
- National Poison Centre - Malaysia (Tel: +604 657 0099 – Office Hours | +6012 430 9499- No
- Carbon monoxide poisoning is an illness that is caused by breathing in (inhaling) carbon monoxide gas.
- This condition is often caused by inhaling exhaust fumes from sources that burn fuel containing carbon, including gasoline, coal, charcoal, or wood.
- When the gas is inhaled, it quickly enters the bloodstream and reduces the amount of oxygen that goes to your organs and cells.
- The first step of treatment is to get to fresh air immediately and remove yourself from the dangerous environment.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment with oxygen therapy.
This information is not intended to replace advice given to you by your health care provider. Make sure you discuss any questions you have with your health care provider.
CDC: Clinical Guidance for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning After a Disaster. CDC website. Updated September 5, 2017. Reviewed August 29, 2017. Accessed September 19, 2019. https://www.cdc.gov/disasters/co_guidance.html
Enkhbaatar P, Pruitt BA, Suman O, et al: Pathophysiology, research challenges, and clinical management of smoke inhalation injury. Lancet 2016; 388: pp. 1437-1446
Rose JJ et al: Carbon monoxide poisoning: pathogenesis, management, and future directions of therapy. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 195(5):596-606, 2017
Zazzeron L, Liu C, Franco W, et al: Pulmonary phototherapy for treating carbon monoxide poisoning. Am J Respir Crit Care Med 2015; 192: pp. 1191-1199
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