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Carbon monoxide poisoning and what you should know

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There was a recent news story out of the UK about the tragic outcome of a young woman dying from the effects of inhaling carbon monoxide from what she thought was an inactive BBQ.  This story of an unnecessary death due to accidental carbon monoxide inhalation is becoming more and more common.

What is carbon monoxide and how do we inhale it?

The definition of Carbon Monoxide as explained by Wikipedia Encyclopedia is: Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to hemoglobic animals (including humans) when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm.

This gas can be easily inhaled through every day appliances such as ovens, BBQ’s, heaters, fireplaces, clothes dryers and any fuel-based furnaces.  Engines that run on gasoline such as cars and lawn mowers also release carbon monoxide but the fact that they are usually operated outside allows the natural dilution and disbursement of the gas.

What does too much carbon monoxide do to your body?

Basically, if you are breathing in large amounts of carbon monoxide (which can usually only happen in a closed area such as a house or tent), your organs are being slowly deprived of oxygen leading to their eventual suffocation.  The brain can shut down in as little as 4 minutes of being starved of oxygen according to BBC Health.

What to be aware of when dealing with appliances using gas?

If there is limited or no ventilation in the area of the appliance using gas, extra caution must be used and applied. Examples of people using stoves and ovens (including coal) to warm up an area, is a perfect example of how accidental carbon monoxide poisoning can happen. It is extremely important to note that even if an appliance may appear to be off or inactive simply because it is not emitting any heat, that it is still capable of leaking gas.

What are the early symptoms of inhaling carbon monoxide?

The danger of carbon monoxide is that it is odorless and colorless so it is valuable to understand some physical symptoms of inhaling carbon monoxide before it’s too late. Some of the most obvious symptoms include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • dizziness
  • loss of consciousness
  • breathlessness

What are the First Aid treatments for carbon monoxide poisoning?

Treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning needs to be administered immediately. Depending on how much carbon monoxide has been inhaled will depend on how much damage has been caused to the brain through oxygen deprivation. The most immediate resource a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning requires is fresh air. The following actions should be taken if someone is suspected of inhaling carbon monoxide:

  • Remove them from the environment of the carbon monoxide emission and into fresh air
  • If the victim is unconscious, commence CPR immediately
  • Phone 000 as victim may require extensive oxygen therapy

Note: If someone is with you, instruct them to find the source of the carbon monoxide (oven, bbq, etc) and turn it off or extinguish it. If you are by yourself, the most important thing is to get you and the victim/s into fresh air and revived.