Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Woman in bed, lying down, eyes closed with oxygen mask on her face.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly gas you can't see or smell. It's produced 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.

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 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 computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be done to check for damage to the brain. Depending on the test results, the victim may be admitted to the hospital.

To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

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

  • 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.

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© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.