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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CO Poisoning) (Carboxyhemoglobin) Print E-mail

Dr. Kennedy Carbon monoxide is a tasteless odorless gas that is a byproduct of combustion. Carbon monoxide acts as a poison by competing with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin, the molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the more remote tissues of the body and returns carbon dioxide from the tissues to the lungs. On inhalation, carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin with a binding affinity 200-270 times greater than that of oxygen, thus displacing oxygen and if in high enough concentration leading to death by asphyxiation. Carbon monoxide poisoning may be more common than is currently recognized. It is conservatively estimated that in the US there are at least 200 deaths per year from carbon monoxide poisoning. The tennis star Vitas Gerulaitis died when his Long Island cottage was filled with carbon monoxide from a swimming pool heater in 1994. Two of my patients (a famous attorney and his wife) died in 1982 when an automobile was left on at night in the garage of their home in San Francisco. They both died in their sleep. CO poisoning is a sometimes preferred method of suicide.

Patients may have symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning but be unaware of the basis of their symptoms. The early symptoms are quite nonspecific. They can resemble the symptoms of motion sickness or heat exhaustion and include prolonged headache, nausea, dizziness, and vomiting. At higher concentrations of carbon monoxide in the blood, the signs of carbon monoxide poisoning can include seizures, coma, and death. These can occur after just minutes of even outdoor exposure to exhaust. The first aid treatment of carbon monoxide poisoning is to move the victim to fresh air away from the source of carbon monoxide AND summon emergency medical service. The medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is oxygen, usually with a face mask. The carbon monoxide levels in the blood are checked until they are low enough for safety. For severe carbon monoxide poisoning, a hyperbaric oxygen chamber may be used to achieve higher doses of oxygen.

Carboxyhemoglobin is hemoglobin that has carbon monoxide instead of the normal oxygen bound to it. As already stated, carbon monoxide has a much great affinity than oxygen for hemoglobin. Carboxyhemoglobin is formed quickly on exposure to CO. The source of the carbon monoxide may be exhaust (such as from a car, truck, boat or generator), smoke from a fire, or tobacco smoke. The level of carboxyhemoglobin is a measure of the degree of carbon monoxide exposure (which is also called carbon monoxide hemoglobin). The term for this condition is carboxyhemoglobinemia. Carbon monoxide sensors are a good idea and have become increasiningly present in American homes.

The information in this article is not meant to be medical advice.�Treatment for a medical condition should come at the recommendation of your personal physician.

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