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First Aid for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Last updated Feb. 26, 2018

Approved by: Krish Tangella MD, MBA, FCAP

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas. Breathing in carbon monoxide is poisonous and can often be fatal.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

  • Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, and poisonous gas. Breathing in carbon monoxide is poisonous and can often be fatal
  • Carbon monoxide is produced by devices that produce combustion fumes, such as those that burn gas and petroleum products, including internal combustion engines

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is also known as the following:

  • Carbon Monoxide Toxicity
  • CO Poisoning

What are the Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is caused by exposure to smoke/carbon monoxide in small and confined spaces with poor ventilation. This may be accidental, or in some cases intentional, to bring self-harm.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning can occur from:

  • Exposure to vehicular smoke in car garages, due to running motor engines
  • Gas and wood stoves
  • Water heaters that run on gas or other fuels
  • Diesel generators
  • Non-electric fireplaces
  • Chimneys that are blocked or partially closed due to any obstruction
  • Charcoal or gas barbecuing in closed spaces
  • Motorboat exhaust
  • Any appliance that burns fuel and is placed in a poorly-ventilated space
  • Inhalation of smoke caused by a fire accident

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The common signs and symptoms of individuals with Carbon Monoxide Poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue and loss of energy
  • Dizziness, confusion, and disorientation
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Breathlessness
  • Unclear and blurred vision
  • Hearing loss
  • Respiratory failure
  • Unconsciousness

How is First Aid administered for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

First Aid tips for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

  • Call 911 or your local emergency help number immediately, for emergency assistance
  • Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or your local poison control center) for further instructions
  • Provide them with information such as the compound taken, quantity and time of ingestion, age, weight and general health status of affected individual
  • Carefully remove the individual from the exposure area; move them to region of fresh air immediately
  • If the source of carbon dioxide is identified, then turn-off the source immediately, in the safest manner possible
  • Place the individual in a comfortable position and assist him/her until emergency medical help arrives
  • Confirm that the airways are protected; also, ensure breathing and the presence of pulse
  • If the individual is not breathing or not showing any signs of movement, immediately start CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation)
  • DO NOT give anything orally (by way of mouth) to the individual
  • Unless directed by the physician, DO NOT give any medication

The emergency medical health professional might perform the following steps towards treating the condition:

  • Monitor vital signs
  • Pure oxygen will be supplied through a mask placed over the nose and mouth
  • In case of severe poisoning, the patient is placed in a pressurized oxygen chamber
  • Treat burns, if any, and other injuries
  • Administer fluids by an intravenous drip line

Who should administer First Aid for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

First aid for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is administered by healthcare professionals.

  • The individual who is affected, or someone near, should call 911 for emergency assistance (or the local emergency number)
  • They should also call the poison control center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow instructions

What is the Prognosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

  • The prognosis of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning is dependent on the duration of carbon monoxide exposure (inhaled), time between exposure and treatment, severity of the symptoms, as well as general health status of the patient
  • Generally, if the poisoning is mild and lasts only a short duration, individuals can recover easily and completely
  • If inhalation of the carbon monoxide gas is severe, it can result in death

How can Carbon Monoxide Poisoning be Prevented?

A few helpful tips to prevent inadvertent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning:

  • Periodically check and ensure smoke (carbon monoxide) detectors at home are functionally fit and regularly serviced
  • Opening the garage door before starting a car: The car should never be started in a closed garage
  • Using gas appliances, as per instructions
  • Undertaking proper maintenance of gas appliances and fireplaces
  • Educate children and adults on fire safety and probable sources of carbon monoxide or other gas poisoning

What are certain Crucial Steps to be followed?

  • Call 911 (or your local emergency number) for emergency assistance, if symptoms are life-threatening
  • Call Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 (or the local poison control center) and follow the recommend steps
  • It would be helpful if the following information is readily available:
    • Type, amount and time of intake of the substance
    • Age and weight of the individual
    • And, the overall health status of the individual

What are some Useful Resources for Additional Information?

References and Information Sources used for the Article:

Helpful Peer-Reviewed Medical Articles:

Reviewed and Approved by a member of the DoveMed Editorial Board
First uploaded: July 29, 2017
Last updated: Feb. 26, 2018