How can i get carbon monoxide

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: How Can I Minimize The Risk?

Guide to causes, symptoms, therapy and warning messages for carbon monoxide poisoning

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning should not be underestimated - according to official statements by the Federal Statistical Office, 650 people died of carbon monoxide intoxication in 2017 alone. According to doctors, the number of unreported cases is high because not every carbon monoxide poisoning is treated and the symptoms are often assigned to other diseases. Even when the death certificate is issued, carbon monoxide poisoning is not always unequivocally ruled out.

The WDR estimates that there are 5,000 carbon monoxide poisonings in Germany every year. Basically, the poisonous gas carbon monoxide (abbreviated to CO) is released when there is incomplete combustion of biomass, wood, coal or gas. In the United States, for example, there are 20,000 to 50,000 cases of CO poisoning each year - which puts a $ 1.3 billion burden on the American healthcare system. While the death toll is falling in the USA, the number is increasing in Germany.

Causes: How does CO poisoning occur?

Carbon monoxide is always formed when there is an incomplete combustion process of material made of carbon. The prerequisites for incomplete combustion are high temperatures and a low supply of oxygen.

One cause of carbon monoxide accidents is when gas heating systems create an exhaust gas backflow and people in rooms without adequate air exchange inhale the dangerous gas for several minutes. The improper use of wood-burning stoves also leads to CO poisoning again and again, because either the air supply is inadequate or the exhaust gas discharge releases carbon monoxide.

If a person inhales the dangerous breath poison CO, it enters the bloodstream via the lungs. There it combines with the hemoglobin of the red blood cells. And exactly where oxygen would normally attach itself. However, the binding of CO to hemoglobin is much more effective than that of oxygen - as a result, the red blood cells can no longer transport sufficient oxygen.

Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to death within a short period of time. The gas is therefore extremely dangerous for humans. Carbon monoxide is so tricky because the gas is invisible and cannot be tasted or felt. It also penetrates into rooms where there is no source at all - for example in bedrooms or children's rooms.

Symptoms: signs of CO poisoning

Symptoms and signs of a Carbon monoxide poisoning are considered to be rather unspecific - this means that symptoms such as shortness of breath, headaches, cardiac arrhythmias and dizziness can easily be attributed to other causes such as lack of water. It becomes clearer as soon as there is unconsciousness or death.

Another special feature of CO poisoning: the symptoms can only appear 40 days after the actual poisoning. It is precisely then that the explanation that it is a matter of carbon monoxide poisoning becomes more difficult.

How severe the symptoms are depends on the CO concentration in ppm (source 1 and source 2):

  • 35 -> headache and dizziness, usually within six to eight hours
  • 100 -> headache (slight) after two to three hours
  • 200 -> headache (slight) after two to three hours and loss of judgment
  • 400 -> headache (severe) after one to two hours
  • 800 -> dizziness, nausea, cramps already after 45 minutes, unconsciousness possible within two hours
  • 1,600 -> headache, increased heart rate, dizziness and nausea within 20 minutes, death in less than two hours
  • 3,200 -> headache, dizziness and nausea in five to ten minutes, death within 30 minutes
  • 6,400 -> headache and dizziness in one to two minutes, seizures, respiratory arrest and death in less than 20 minutes
  • 12,800 -> unconsciousness after two to three breaths, death in less than three (!) Minutes


Heat promotes accidents with CO

During the heat wave in July 2019 with temperatures of up to 42.6 degrees Celsius in North Rhine-Westphalia, there were a number of accidents with carbon monoxide - aided by the heat, which was also great in apartments or houses.

Fire brigades, chimney sweeps and other experts therefore warn of carbon monoxide poisoning from defective gas boilers. When it is very hot, the problem arises that the exhaust gases from the gas boiler are not warm enough to be safely discharged to the outside. Air conditioning systems and extractor hoods with air exchange to the outside can intensify this effect.

Therapy of CO poisoning

Treatment of smoke gas or carbon monoxide poisoning should begin immediately and no later than four hours after the accident so as not to have long-term health effects. The attempt is made to get the carbon monoxide out of the body as quickly as possible. the therapy is also known as CO intoxication. Pure oxygen is fed in at normal atmospheric pressure. This leads to a reduction in the half-life of carbon monoxide from 320 minutes to less than 100 minutes. This acute therapy should always be used as soon as the patient arrives at a hospital and continue until all recognizable symptoms have been completely eliminated.

This therapy of CO poisoning goes one step further: With the so-called hyberbaric oxygen therapy (HBO), rapid detoxification takes place through overpressure in special oxygen chambers. This reduces the risk of complications occurring later. The following figures show how valuable this treatment is: Without HBO, late neurological complications occur in 15 to 40 percent of cases; with therapy, this rate drops to 1.6 percent.

Carbon Monoxide Warner Save Lives

So how can the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning be minimized? Anyone who operates a gas boiler in a small apartment or has a fireplace should definitely install a carbon monoxide alarm in their apartment or house. There are devices in every price range on the market. Compact devices that are equipped with several sensors and are therefore able to monitor the entire room air with all potential pollutants are advantageous.

The air-Q air quality analyzer also warns of carbon monoxide. By connecting to the air-Q app for smartphones, tablets and web browsers, warning messages can also be transmitted securely, even if the apartment owner is not at home.

(Image source: Image by Karsten Paulick on Pixabay)