HealthSheets™


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Woman in bed, lying down, eyes closed with oxygen mask on her face.
Oxygen is given through a facemask or in a special oxygen chamber.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas you can't see or smell. It's made when certain fuels are burned. Faulty stoves or furnaces can release carbon monoxide. So can a car left running in an enclosed space. Inhaling even small amounts of carbon monoxide can make you sick. Larger amounts can be fatal. Carbon monoxide poisoning tends to occur in the colder climates during the winter months. 

When to go to the emergency room (ER)

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is a medical emergency. Get the victim into fresh air right away. Then call 911 or go to the nearest hospital. It`s easy to mistake mild carbon monoxide poisoning for the flu. If more than one person is having the same symptoms, or symptoms occur at the same location (such as home, or work) it should raise concern for CO poisoning. Watch for symptoms such as:

  • Headache and dizziness

  • Weakness

  • Confusion or loss of memory

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Trouble breathing or chest pain

  • Irregular, skipped, or fast heartbeats

What to expect in the ER

  • Oxygen therapy is the main treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning. The victim is likely to receive oxygen through a facemask right away.

  • The victim may be placed on a heart monitor with a pulse oximeter. This displays the heart rhythm and the amount of oxygen in the blood. An electrocardiogram (ECG) may be done to check for damage to the heart.  

  • Blood tests to check carbon monoxide and oxygen levels and lung function may be done.

  • In certain cases, the victim might be transferred to a hyperbaric oxygen center for treatment in a special oxygen chamber. 

  • An imaging test such as a CT scan or MRI may be done to check for damage to the brain. Severe carbon monoxide poisoning is associated with neurologic signs that can develop days to weeks later. This is known as delayed neurologic syndrome. 

To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Have furnaces, water heaters, gas ovens, and wood stoves checked each year.

  • If the carbon monoxide detector sounds, leave your home right away and call 911.

  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.

  • Don't use a charcoal grill inside the house.

  • Don't leave your car running in an enclosed space.

  • Install a carbon monoxide detector that meets Underwriters' Laboratories (UL) standards. Make sure it is a battery-operated or battery back-up detector. Replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.

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