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Diagnosing and treating carbon monoxide poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a dangerous and extremely toxic gas that you cannot see, smell, or taste. When someone gets CO poisoning, the CO binds to the hemoglobin in the blood and prevents oxygen from being distributed to the body. Hypoxia is the result, and it can cause organ failure, permanent brain damage, and even death.

How do I know if I have CO poisoning?

You need a blood test to confirm CO poisoning. With suspected CO poisoning, medical personnel first test a person's blood by measuring carboxyhemoglobin (COHb), which represents the level of metabolized CO.

Is there treatment?

Luckily, oxygen treatment, when administered as soon as possible after exposure, significantly reduces the time needed for the body to process CO out of cells.

The only way to stunt the poisoning is to immediately remove the victim from the CO-saturated area to fresh air and seek emergency medical attention. High COHb levels are treated with supplemental oxygen, and how mildly or severely someone is poisoned determines the type of oxygen treatment given.

Milder and some moderate cases receive normobaric 100% oxygen treatment, delivered through a CPAP mask snugged over the nose and mouth. Other moderate and more severe cases receive hyperbaric oxygen treatment. A hyperbaric oxygen chamber provides 100% oxygen to the patient and the increases the atmospheric pressure around them, better equipping their cells to process the poison.

Both treatments dramatically accelerate removal of CO from the body. The sooner oxygen treatment starts, the greater the chances of reducing long-term damage caused by oxygen deprivation.

Things to Remember when Seeking Medical Attention

Oxygen treatment effectiveness depends on how quickly it can be administered, and proper treatment depends on the correct diagnosis for a poisoning that commonly gets misdiagnosed.

If you think you might have CO poisoning, go to the emergency room right away! Here are some important things to remember when presenting:

  1. Specify CO poisoning as a possible culprit so medical personnel consider it specifically.
  2. Request a blood test to get an accurate reading on your carboxyhemoglobin: it is still the most accurate way to test for CO poisoning.
  3. Give your situational history - where you have been and what you have been doing for the past 24 hours - to provide additional clues as to what might have caused your poisoning.
  4. Do not rely on two-way pulse oximetry for CO poisoning diagnosis; two-way pulse oximeters (non-invasive devices clipped onto a finger or earlobe) cannot read for carboxyhemoglobin and give falsely high readings of blood oxygenation.

You can't cure CO poisoning, but you can significantly reduce the damage it does with oxygen treatment. Remember, you are more likely to get the correct diagnosis if you give medical personnel as many clues as possible.

Wyatt Law Firm fights

Have you or a loved one been affected by CO poisoning? You could be entitled to compensation. At the Wyatt Law Firm, we have the experience and expertise needed to handle complex CO poisoning cases. Call us today at 210-255-2231 for a free case review, or submit a confidential contact form via our website. We work on a contingency fee basis, so you only pay us if we win your case. You have nothing to lose.

Wyatt Law Firm understands that CO poisonings change lives forever, and we don't let responsible parties ignore our clients. We cut through the noise to make their stories heard.

Let us tell your story.
Let us fight for you.

CO poisonings are preventable. Learn more about CO poisoning prevention and detection here on our legal blog.


References

Bozeman, W. P., Myers, R. A., & Barish, R. A. (1997, November 30). Confirmation of the pulse oximetry gap in carbon monoxide poisoning. Retrieved July 17, 2019, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9360570

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 https://www.uptodate.com/contents/carbon-monoxide-poisoning

Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 17). Carbon monoxide poisoning. Retrieved July 18, 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/carbon-monoxide/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20370646

Mitchell, G. (2017, March). Carbon monoxide poisoning (A. Oakley & M. McGivern, Eds.). Retrieved July 2, 2019, from https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/carbon-monoxide-poisoning

White, S. R. (2008). Treatment of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning. In Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (pp. 341-374). Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, Taylor & Francis Group, LLC.

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