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Episode 82: Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and Brain Damage

When cold weather strikes, and home heating systems run for hours the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, referred to as: “CO”, poisoning increases.

Yearly, at least 430 people die in the United States from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning according to the Centers for Disease Control and Injury Prevention, the “CDC”.

Approximately 50,000 people in the United States visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning.

It is sometimes called the “silent killer” because it is colorless, odorless, and possesses a hidden and lethal danger.

In the winter where we are in closed environments, the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning from heating systems not properly maintained and improper ventilation increases.

Carbon Monoxide is found in fumes produced by furnaces, kerosene heaters, vehicles “warmed up” in garages, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges, portable generators, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO gas from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces causing brain injury and death.

How does Carbon Monoxide Gas Harm You?

Breathing Carbon Monoxide gas can result in brain damage or death because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, the brain, and other vital organs of oxygen.

The most common symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning are:

  • Persistent, severe headaches and dizziness
  • Nausea, vomiting and fatigue
  • Drowsiness
  • Confusion
  • Impaired Judgment
  • Difficulty Breathing
  • Blurry Vision
  • Stomach Pain
  • Seizures
  • Unconsciousness
  • Loss of Coordination
  • Memory Loss
  • and even Death

Brain damage frequently results from prolonged carbon monoxide exposure.

Neuropsychological deficits frequently occur, and neuroimaging may show brain lesions after CO poisoning.

Victims of CO poisoning may exhibit some degree of cognitive decline. This ranges from subtle impairments, only detectable on neuropsychological testing, to decline in gross intellectual function, and even dementia.

Common findings include disorientation, and deficits in attention, concentration, executive function, visuospatial skills, verbal fluency, speed of information processing, and memory.

So, what can be done to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

Install carbon monoxide monitors with audible alarms in enclosed living and workspaces especially near bedrooms and in basements.

Test your carbon monoxide alarm routinely and replace dead batteries.

Work areas and buildings must have an effective ventilation system that will remove CO from enclosed spaces.

Equipment and appliances including boilers, furnaces, water heaters, space heaters, cooking devices must be properly maintained and inspected to reduce CO formation.

Never use a gas range, oven, or dryer for heating your home.

Do not use gasoline-powered equipment and tools indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.

Ensure that snow and ice do not block exhaust vents and pipes on buildings and vehicles.

What can you do if you suspect someone has been poisoned with CO?

When you suspect CO poisoning, promptly taking these actions can save lives:

  • Move the victim immediately to an open area with fresh air;
  • Call 911 or another local emergency number for medical attention or assistance;
  • Administer 100 percent oxygen using a tightfitting mask if the victim is breathing

The best cure for a brain injury is prevention.

Building owners, construction site general contractors, landlords, property managers, hotels, schools, and business may all be liable if they failed to maintain their premises, stores, or equipment causing you to be poisoned from carbon monoxide gas.

In New York City and New York State, carbon monoxide detectors are required to be installed in residential and commercial spaces.

You can obtain more information on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning and your legal rights by visiting our carbon monoxide web page

Audio version

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