Carbon monoxide poisoning

What precautions to take to avoid a carbon monoxide poisoning

This year again, we have counted 4,100 people intoxicated with carbon monoxide. How does it characterize this carbon monoxide poisoning, what are symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning? What do you have to do in this case? What precautions do we have to take to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning?

Poisoning mechanism by carbon monoxide


Accidents occur during heating periods and they are treacherous enough because carbon monoxide is odourless, invisible and not irritating. It comes from an incomplete combustion of carboned matter: in case of complete combustion, it forms carbon dioxide (CO2) whereas in this case, it forms carbon monoxide (CO) in relation with an insufficiency in oxygen.


This gas (CO) is asphyxiating and very toxic. Its toxicity is linked to its haemoglobin combination, protein which transports oxygen in blood. The bond with carbon monoxide results to carboxyhaemoglobin (HbCO) which prevents haemoglobin to oxygenate tissues.  This formation is due to affinity more than 200 times bigger of haemoglobin for CO than for oxygen when there is carbon monoxide (CO) in the air. 


This reaction may occur with combustibles such as wood, butane, coal, natural gas, domestic oil, petroleum, propane… Those domestic accidents occur at home but also in certain reunions places poisoning where there are  possibly numerous people. We have to be vigilant and to verify our heating source. Fortunately, carboxyhaemoglobin reaction is reversible permitting carbon monoxide elimination by respiratory way thanks to oxygen breathing. We distinguish two poisoning types: acute and chronic.

Symptoms induced by carbon monoxide poisoning and cares at bringing

Carbon monoxide poisoning
Carbon monoxide poisoning

In case of acute poisoning, you have to inform emergency rapidly and to aerate immediately premises when you open doors and windows. Poisoning provokes vertigos, a faint, a muscular infirmity even coma or death because 0.1% of CO kills in one hour, 1% of CO kills in a quarter of an hour and 10% of CO kills immediately. Carbon monoxide poisoning is sometimes spectacular because all people gathered in a same room are affected and it occurs there are many.


Poisoned people are brought to hospital and are placed under oxygen to accelerate detoxification. The gravest intoxicated are put in a hyperbaric chamber for a 90 minutes session. When poisoning is chronic, signs are deceptive and not very specific: headaches, vertigos, weaknesses, abdominal and muscular pains, sleep and memory and taste and smell troubles. 


Sometimes, people affected by this chronic poisoning are bad-diagnosed: one thinks about a flu, about a gastro-enteritis or about another benign infection. In the long term, that implicates cardiac and/or respiratory troubles. Poisoning is grave for foetus of pregnant women and for young children who risk a mental backwardness. To avoid all those poisonings, it is possible to detect carbon monoxide with a carboximetre. It has to take other preventive measures too.  


Precautions at taking to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning


You have to make regularly verify your boiler by a professional. For chimneys, it has to inspect the conduct and make a chimney sweeping obligatory twice a year. It is to banish radiant panels forecast for big ventilated premises as well as camping radiators for outside. You must have CE norm in each new device functioning with natural gas. Equally, clean regularly burners of your gas cooker: flame must be well-regulated and must not blacken pans bottom.


Another thing, read with assiduity manuals for users of your heating devices. Moreover, it is forbidden to preheat  rooms equipped with radiant panels before manifestations (for example cult places) because an use prolonged of radiant panels can provoke carbon monoxide formation.


In general, accidents occur because of network gas, bottle gas, coal and wood. They are often due to an aeration defect and to an use defect of extra heating. Risks are multiplied in case of bad weather or big cold. Let’s be careful all of us to our heating devices to avoid poisonings. Without forgetting that those devices can also provoke fires and graver accidents. We have to be vigilant.

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Written by Corinne Duré, April 23rd 2010.
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Themes approached and treated in this publication : carbon monoxide, cares, chimney, oxygen, poisoning, radiator