Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that’s poisonous to humans. It’s often called the “silent killer.” This is because you can’t see, smell, or taste it. That’s why it’s so important to recognize the symptoms of exposure. Approximately 50,000 Americans head to the ER each year because of CO poisoning not linked to a house fire. Isolated, the symptoms can seem innocuous, but if you notice multiple symptoms occurring at the same time, you should act. If you believe you’re experiencing CO poisoning, get into the fresh air immediately. Then, call 911 for emergency medical help in Aitkin, MN.

Short-Term Symptoms of CO Poisoning at Low Concentrations

Most incidents of exposure to CO involve low concentrations. Even at low concentration, you can experience symptoms. It’s important to note that some people are much more sensitive than others. You should also be aware that CO poisoning affects your brain and heart the most of any of your organs. The first sign of CO poisoning is typically fatigue. This is true even for adults who are fit and otherwise healthy. If you experience sudden fatigue, there’s typically some external cause.

Unusual fatigue can be more difficult to detect in people who are prone to fatigue in general. That can include children, the elderly, and people with health conditions. People with heart disease are also prone to chest pain at low CO concentrations. Again, this can be difficult to discern from the heart ailment itself. Those with a heart condition who experience chest pain should be proactive in calling for help.

Short-Term Symptoms of CO Poisoning at High Concentrations

If the CO continues to accumulate due to a lack of ventilation, symptoms will worsen as they do. Additionally, more symptoms will manifest. What’s important to know about this group of symptoms is that many people describe CO poisoning as having the flu. These flu-like symptoms include:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headaches
  • Drowsiness
  • Shortness of breath

If you suddenly experience two or more of these symptoms, go outside. If fresh air leads to quick relief, then the problem can indicate CO poisoning or some other indoor air quality issue.

People can also experience symptoms in the short term that they may not necessarily associate with the flu. These include:

  • Confusion
  • Emotionality
  • Blurred vision
  • Impaired coordination
  • Loss of muscle control
  • Problematic decision-making

If you experience any of these symptoms, you should go outside and call for help as soon as possible. The next phase of CO poisoning is loss of consciousness. This is very dangerous, as you are no longer able to help yourself. At this point, you’re now susceptible to the long-term symptoms of CO poisoning. Without assistance, you may eventually suffer serious tissue damage and even death.

Long-Term Symptoms of CO Poisoning

The long-term symptoms of CO poisoning are:

  • Memory loss
  • Personality changes
  • Loss of motor control
  • Diminished respiratory function

CO impairs the normal function of respiratory cells. When it binds to the heme proteins that carry oxygen within a cell, it’s irreversible. It also binds to myoglobin, which can lead to hypertension and myocardial depression. In the brain, it causes hypoxia, which promotes the formation of oxygen-free radicals. These effects are irreversible as well, and they can manifest in many ways. In some cases, that includes a person having a very different demeanor than before poisoning occurred.

Greater Risk for People Who Are Sleeping and Intoxicated

People who are sleeping, under the influence of drugs, or drunk are more susceptible to CO poisoning. They are even more susceptible to low concentrations. In fact, they can die from CO poisoning before experiencing any symptoms at all. In addition, CO poisoning won’t wake them up, even if symptoms are present and heightened. Most deaths linked to CO poisoning involve people who are sleeping or passed out due to alcohol and drug use. People who are drunk or drugged but awake are at great risk as well. They’ll experience heightened symptoms and, often, a broader array of symptoms. Despite that, those symptoms are much more likely to go unnoticed and become more dangerous.

Are There Treatments for CO Poisoning?

If CO exposure is low to moderate, fresh air is often the only treatment needed. At moderate exposure, high-flow oxygen is the common treatment. It reduces the CO levels in the blood and reduces the half-life of bound CO. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is a treatment option as well. This is generally reserved for those who suffer from smoke inhalation or severe CO toxicity in general. That therapy is also used by pregnant women to protect their unborn babies. This therapy does heal tissue damage, but not necessarily all damage that can occur through long-term CO poisoning.

What Are the Sources of CO Symptoms in the Home?

The primary sources are gas- and oil-burning furnaces, stoves, water heaters, and fireplaces. This can occur due to malfunction, inadequate ventilation, or back drafting. Back drafting is when a ventilation intake pulls in gases from a gas exhaust. Other potential sources include all gasoline-powered generators and automobiles running in garages.

Avoiding CO Poisoning Through CO Detection

The best way to avoid CO poisoning is through CO detection. A CO detector can raise an alarm at very low levels of exposure. This will typically be in advance of anyone in the household experiencing symptoms. It’s also very important as a means of waking sleeping people up.

How much coverage you need depends on the number and location of fuel-burning appliances in your home. Discuss this with your plumber or HVAC technician. You should also test your CO detectors each month and replace the batteries as needed. Replace any detectors that fail the test. Replace all detectors at the 10-year mark, regardless.

Avoiding CO Poisoning Through Regular Maintenace

You should schedule an HVAC company to perform maintenance on your furnace each fall. This way, they’ve inspected and cleaned your system before you needed to run it. You should also schedule a plumbing inspection once a year that will cover your water heater, stove, and other fuel-burning appliances.

Your Local HVAC and Plumbing Pros in Aitkin

If you’d like to take additional steps to protect your family from CO poisoning, Northern Air Plumbing & Heating is here to help. Our team serves families in Aitkin and throughout the surrounding areas. Our indoor air quality team also specializes in air exchangers, ventilation fans, air purifiers, dehumidifiers, and humidifiers. We have NATE-certified HVAC technicians that specialize in both ducted and ductless systems. That includes mini-split ACs and heat pumps, air-source, and geothermal heat pumps, central ACs, and fuel and electric furnaces.

We also have an experienced plumbing team available. Our plumbers perform a wide range of plumbing repairs, including drain cleaning. We also install leak detection, sump pumps, water softeners, and tank and tankless water heaters. Call us today or contact us online with any questions about these services or to schedule an appointment.

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