Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The most common cause of poisoning could be lurking at a tailgate party near you.
On game days, tailgating regulations vary from sport-to-sport and stadium-to-stadium but two things are a constant and can save lives: regulations and safety practices. A tailgate party can turn deadly due to unsafe practices, improper preparations, inattention to detail and not following the rules.
Carbon monoxide—a colorless, odorless and tasteless gas—results from incomplete combustion of carbon compounds such as oil, propane gas, coal, wood, and charcoal, as well as barbeque pits, forklifts, furnaces and water heaters which use gas as a heating source. Each year, according to industry officials, carbon monoxide poisoning is responsible for greater than 40,000 visits to the emergency room and some 1,000 to 2,000 deaths in the United States.
In scientific terms, carbon monoxide binds to hemoglobin in the red blood cell more than 200 times stronger than oxygen. This binding prevents oxygen from being carried to the tissues. Carbon monoxide is also carried by plasma. Therefore, carbon monoxide induces low oxygen levels and inhibits cytochrome, which reduces ATP production in cellular respiration. In layman’s terms, the impaired delivery of oxygen and cellular respiration makes carbon monoxide a potential killer.
What are the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning? Some are flu-like with headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness. Others include problems with balance and walking, difficulty in concentrating, state of confusion, loss of consciousness and coma. Carbon monoxide poisoning is a medical emergency and can be lethal. At the first sign of carbon monoxide poisoning, it is imperative that you get away from the source, if known, and call 9-1-1. Inform the 9-1-1 operator and emergency responder that you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and follow their advice.
The immediate treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is to remove those impacted from the source. Get away from the source immediately. Next, emergency personnel will supply you with 100% oxygen. If available, hyperbaric oxygen therapy may be used.
On “room air,” carbon monoxide has a half-life of greater than five hours. Half-life is the time it takes for a quantity of a compound to be reduced to half. On 100% oxygen, carbon monoxide half-life is approximately two hours. In a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, the half-life can be reduced to less than 23 minutes.
The best treatment, of course, is prevention. In tailgating and other activities, carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented, and you can help make your game days safe days. Prevention and safety practices include the following:
- Have fuel-burning appliances installed by certified technicians and have routine inspections.
- Inspect fireplaces and chimneys REGULARLY to ensure proper ventilation.
- Purchase carbon monoxide detection devices for your house, and change batteries
- Use ventilated space heaters.
- Make sure all doors on wood stoves fit tightly.
- DO NOT use a gas range or an oven for heating.
- DO NOT use portable gas stoves indoors.
- DO NOT use gas-operated generators indoors.
- DO NOT start a vehicle or other gas-operated devices in a closed garage.
- NEVER use gas or charcoal grills indoors.
- Be sure forklifts are properly tuned and that there is adequate ventilation for safe use.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can also produce long term injuries such as delayed neurological abnormalities in memory and concentration, tremor, amnesia and problems with gait (walking).
Carbon monoxide poisoning can seriously injure the heart. Patients who have carbon monoxide-induced problems with heart issues have a shorter lifespan than people who are poisoned and did not have cardiac concerns.
In addition to the prevention tips offered, refer to the manufacturers’ safety and prevention of injury instructions for all appliances and apparatuses. Familiarize yourself and your group with tailgate regulations for the sporting venue and location. If you’re impaired, including a lack of sleep, don’t do set-ups alone. Identify trusted adults who can assist with venue set-ups and when in doubt, seek the advice of an expert.
To learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning prevention, including the use of carbon monoxide alarms, visit the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) at www.cpsc.gov.
Paul Staab, M.D. works at West Jefferson Medical Center’s Hyperbaric Medicine Center and can be reached at (504)347-5511.