Carbon monoxide is a toxic gas composed of carbon and oxygen. It has no taste or color and is sometimes termed a silent killer as extreme exposure to carbon monoxide can result in death or serious tissue damage. According to a Global Burden of Disease report in 2015, an estimated 86,353 people died from unintentional poisonings worldwide with 78,054 (90%) deaths occurring in low and middle-income countries.
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when there is a high level of exposure and build-up of the gas in the bloodstream. When an individual inhales carbon monoxide in excess, it goes into the bloodstream and mixes with a part of the red blood cell (hemoglobin) that conveys oxygen round the body to form carboxyhemoglobin (NHS.UK). This results in the affected cells being unable to carry oxygen, thereby causing failure of the body’s cells and tissues.
Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon monoxide is produced and emitted into the air through various fuel-burning machines and/or appliances such as cookers, cars (faulty car exhaust), burning charcoal, cigarette, generators e.tc. Staying in a closed environment where one constantly gets exposed to carbon monoxide emissions from these different sources causes can be harmful. Examples of other causes are smoking shisha pipes indoors, having barbecues within an enclosed environment, etc.
Age: Unborn babies and young children have more breathing rates, predisposing them to the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. Elderly people also are at a high risk of developing brain damage if exposed to the gas.
Pre-existing health conditions: Individuals that have suffered heart diseases, loss of consciousness and other conditions such as anemia and breathing problems in time past are usually at a high risk of falling sick when exposed to carbon monoxide.
Sign and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning usually go unnoticed especially in situations where exposure is mild. This makes it particularly dangerous as one could suffer severe tissue damage or even death before realizing it. Some of the common signs and symptoms include:
- Queasiness and vomiting
- Loss of breath/difficulty breathing.
Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are a few preventative measures you can implement to help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Some of them include:
- Ensure your rooms and/or offices are well ventilated.
- Put in place a carbon monoxide indicator/detector in your home and workplace to help keep you abreast of any carbon monoxide leakage.
- Protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning caused by exhaust fumes by ensuring your car exhaust pipe is frequently checked for any leakage and/or blockage. Also, avoid leaving your cars running in an enclosed environment (e.g. garage) for too long.
- Limit your use of gas-powered appliances and/or equipment inside your home.
- Always wear a facial mask when working with chemicals that could cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
- Avoid burning items in an enclosed environment.
NHS, UK: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/carbon-monoxide-poisoning/
Mayo Clinic: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/carbon-monoxide/symptoms-causes/syc-20370642