Carbon monoxide can be a silent killer.
People who are exposed to excessive carbon monoxide often initially exhibit such nonspecific symptoms as headache, fatigue, dizziness, nausea and vomiting that can be confused with the flu or other illnesses, said Dr. Amber Bradford, an emergency medicine physician with Akron General Medical Center.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, making exposure difficult to detect.
“Higher levels of carbon monoxide exposure can lead to cardiac arrest because you’re not delivering oxygen to the heart and the brain,” Bradford said. “People can go into cardiac arrest and have a heart attack. They can have a stroke.”
People 65 and older, pregnant women and children are groups at the greatest risk for problems, she said.
“A lot of elderly patients have medical problems that already make their body more susceptible to problems when they’re not getting enough oxygen,” Bradford said.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, carbon monoxide poisoning is a leading cause of unintentional poisoning deaths in the United States. An estimated 15,000 emergency department visits and nearly 500 deaths each year are due to nonfire carbon monoxide poisoning.
The main treatment for most patients who are exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide is delivery of 100 percent oxygen through a mask, Bradford said. Patients who are experiencing irregular heart rhythms or confusion can be treated in hyperbaric chambers, which deliver 100 percent oxygen at a higher pressure.
Most patients are able to go home after receiving oxygen, she said. Patients experiencing cardiac arrhythmias or altered mental status and very elderly patients with elevated carbon monoxide levels in their blood often are observed in a hospital overnight.
Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Powell on Twitter at twitter.com/abjcherylpowell.