Most carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning cases cause deadly injuries, permanent damage or death. Because the poisonous gas cannot be detected by scent, vision or taste, victims can suffer serious injuries without knowing they were exposed to high levels of toxic carbon monoxide. The side effects from CO poisoning are often serious, life threatening or permanent.
Carbon monoxide can be produced by various sources including:
- Faulty equipment or devices
- Exhaust fumes from machines, vehicles and tools
- Non-vented devices including heaters and lanterns
- Smoke from a fire
Immediate and Long-term Side Effects Related to CO
Many of the side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are immediate while others present themselves at a later point after exposure to the toxic gas.
- Immediate Side Effects – Many of the common side effects of injuries caused by CO exposure include headaches, dizziness, blurred vision, vomiting and nausea. In some cases, the victim will experience muscle pain, weakness, chest pain and an irregular heartbeat. There may also be difficulty in breathing or breathing at a faster pace than normal. Some victims experience seizures, fainting or confusion.
- Late Stage Side Effects – Many of the side effects that occur long after the immediate response to CO exposure show within the first 2 to 40 days. These late stage symptoms can include behavioral changes, depression, increased anxiety levels, finger/hand shaking or tremors, difficulty in controlling bowels and urination, challenges in thinking clearly, cognitive issues along with movement issues including walking or bending arms and legs. Some victims experience uncontrollable facial muscles, making speaking and chewing difficult.
The level of dosage and exposure along with the victim’s reaction to the toxic gas will determine if the injuries are permanent or temporary.
Diagnosing CO Poisoning
In addition to evaluating the side effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, there are numerous exams, tests and methods available to diagnose the problem conclusively. Healthcare providers usually perform an extensive examination and analyze signs and symptoms of the patient and other victims including pets that might have been in the exposed environment. The doctor can provide a comprehensive diagnosis by performing numerous tests including:
- Neurological Exam – A comprehensive neurological examination can detect how the brain operates after exposure to CO gases. Part of the exam will include checking balance, memory, hand grasp and the patient’s pupils.
- Blood Test – An all-inclusive blood test can determine the level of CO poisoning and any damaging side effects caused by exposure.
- Blood Gases – This specific blood test evaluates carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the patient’s blood to determine the level of exposure.
- Analyzing Heart Rhythm – Continuously monitoring the patient’s cardiac rhythm using an EKG machine is an effective way to determine any heart damage caused by exposure to CO gases.
- Breath Analyzer – The patient’s level of carbon monoxide upon exhalation can be captured and analyzed to determine the toxicity level in the body.
Without immediate and long-term treatments, the symptoms and signs experienced by the victim can easily become life threatening. In many incidences, the victim suffers serious brain issues, lung problems and extensive heart damage. Sometimes, the kidneys will malfunction or the patient will experience a heart attack or coma.
Treating Toxic CO Levels
There are various options for treating poisoning caused by exposure to carbon monoxide. Doctors will often give the patient oxygen when oxygenated blood levels are low. To maximize the benefits of infused oxygen therapy, the patient might be placed in a hyperbaric chamber to provide oxygen under pressure to ensure it penetrates tissue and blood. However, available oxygen treatments using hyperbaric chambers might cause adverse reactions including eyesight issues, hearing loss, ear pain, chest tightness and coughing. Some patients experience lung issues and seizures from the treatment.
Health care providers treating the patient might place an ET (endotracheal tube) into their nose or mouth that might be hooked to a breathing machine (ventilator). This can provide extra much-needed oxygen to the blood and body tissue. In some cases, the patient is given additional liquids through IV therapy as a way to manage blood pressure and body fluids affected by CO exposure.
Unfortunately, too many victims suffer serious injuries and death from exposure to carbon monoxide. Any individual feeling dizzy, suffering blurred eyesight, experiencing headaches, nausea or the need to vomit should contact their caregiver.
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