Carbon monoxide poisoning


Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas produced by the incomplete combustion of gas, coal, or other fuels. Inhalation of carbon monoxide for only a few minutes will cause symptoms that may make you think you have the flu; breathing it for less than half an hour can kill you. And it doesn't take a lot -- an air concentration of even 0.05% can be fatal.

How do you know if someone is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning? The initial symptoms include headache, dizzinesss, drowsiness, hyperventilation (abnormally rapid and deep breathing), chest pain, nausea, and a cherry red skin color.

As the poisoning progresses, a severe, throbbing headache and tachycardia (rapid heart rate) will lead to convulsions, unconsciousness, cardiac and respiratory failure, brain damage, and death.

Quick action is imperative if you believe someone is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning. First, remove the person -- and yourself --from the toxic environment. Then call for help.

Paramedics will administer oxygen and transport the victim to the nearest hospital, where emergency measures will be taken to "cleanse" the blood of carbon monoxide as quickly as possible. (This may involve transport to another facility with a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.) Doctors and nurses will also closely monitor neurologic signs, as central nervous system damage can result from even a brief exposure to carbon monoxide.

Of course, the best way to handle carbon monoxide poisoning is to prevent its happening. Annual furnace maintenance and careful use of heaters and barbecues are important. Avoid warming up your car in a closed garage, especially when the garage is attached to the house and located under bedrooms or other living areas.

And the cost of a few well-placed carbon monoxide detectors is far less than the cost to you and your family of carbon monoxide poisoning.

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