Acute Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Acute Carbon Monoxide Poisoning We know that one bite from a cobra can kill since its venom is toxic to humans. But did you know that a one-time exposure to the poisonous gas carbon monoxide can do the same thing? Scariest of all: we only see cobras at the zoo, but carbon monoxide is around us every day, and you can't even tell. Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, non-irritating gas produced during combustion. Although you can sometimes see or smell other characteristic byproducts of combustion, you can't measure CO without an instrument. A single exposure to a high concentration can be fatal. Unfortunately, an acute CO poisoning can affect someone for the rest of their life if they survive it.

What is acute CO poisoning?

Acute CO poisoning happens when someone inhales a lot of CO in a short time. The severity of a poisoning depends on the amount inhaled and the duration of exposure. If a person inhales too much CO, it displaces the oxygen in their blood faster than their body can process it. The acute poisoning then induces a range of rapid-onset symptoms including sharp headache, nausea and vomiting, loss of consciousness, and coma. Inhaling extremely high concentrations can incapacitate in just seconds; in rare cases, it can kill outright.

What causes acute CO poisoning?

The majority of acute CO poisonings occur from exposure to combustion byproducts since most of the CO we encounter comes from engine system exhaust and fires. Here are some examples of CO poisoning causes:
  • Gas-powered appliances (stoves, ovens, dryers, heaters, boilers, water heaters) malfunctioning and leaking CO into living spaces
  • Using gas-powered devices (electric generators, propane lanterns, kerosene heaters, charcoal grills) indoors or near an open window
  • Running or warming up a car in the garage (even with the garage door open) or running a lawnmower in a shed
  • Using gas- or propane-powered tools and equipment (forklifts, air compressors, chainsaws, augers, bobcats, scissor lifts) in unventilated spaces
  • Inhaling smoke from a building fire
  • Sitting on or swimming near the stern of a boat while the engine is idling or running rich
  • Malfunctioning or backdrafting fireplaces misdirecting CO into the home
  • Engines combusting inefficiently or cracked exhaust systems leaking CO into cars
CO is a "silent killer" and we can't see it coming, but CO poisonings are preventable with due diligence. Using fuel-burning products outdoors as directed, properly installing and maintaining appliances, checking vehicle exhaust systems, keeping working CO detectors, and knowing the symptoms of CO poisoning are your greatest defenses against CO poisoning.

What do I do if my CO detector goes off?

Get out of the house to fresh air immediately! Call the fire department so they can test for CO and locate the emission source. Seek immediate medical attention if you present symptoms. If you have been hurt or your loved one was killed by a severe CO poisoning, know that you may have a legal claim. Our attorneys at the Wyatt Law Firm have experience handling complicated CO cases; we have the expertise and resources needed to win. Call us today at 210-340-5550 for a free case review, or submit a confidential contact form via our website. We understand that a claim cannot undo the damage done by a severe CO poisoning, but it can equip families with what they need to move forward.

We do what we do to get lives back on track.

Let us fight for you.

For more information on CO, explore our legal blog.


Clardy, P. F., MD, Manaker, S., MD, PhD, & Perry, H., MD. (2018, June 6). Carbon monoxide poisoning (S. J. Traub MD, M. M. Burns MD, MPH, & J. Grayzel MD, FAAEM, Eds.). Retrieved July 18, 2019, from Dydek, T. M. (2008). Investigating Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (D. G. Penney, Ed.). In Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (pp. 287-303). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Mitchell, G. (2017, March). Carbon monoxide poisoning (A. Oakley & M. McGivern, Eds.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from  


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