Pregnant Women, Young Children, the Elderly, and those with Chronic Illnesses Most at Risk for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Doha, 12 February, 2020: As the temperatures continue to drop, Dr. Galal Saleh Al Essai, Consultant, Emergency Medicine at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) is warning about the health risks of burning charcoal and wood in enclosed spaces.
“During the colder months, some people seek ways to keep their homes warm and resort to burning coal or wood inside. When charcoal and wood burn without oxygen they produce fossil fuels that release carbon monoxide - a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas. Carbon monoxide is very hard to detect, leading to people inhaling it and being poisoned. This can happen very quickly and is extremely dangerous,” explains Dr. Al Essai, who is also Vice-Chairman of Corporate Affairs at HMC’s Emergency Department.
Dr. Al Essai said carbon monoxide poisoning is so dangerous because the signs and symptoms can be easy to miss. He says many people dismiss the symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning thinking they have food poisoning or the flu.
“Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can start to appear within five to 20 minutes of exposure. Lower concentrations may lead to a delay in the onset of symptoms. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include a headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness, and confusion. Anyone who develops symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately get fresh air and seek emergency medical care,” said Dr. Al Essai.
Dr. Al Essai says severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can result in muscle cramps, fainting, loss of consciousness, and death due to a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain. He says the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with chronic heart disease, respiratory problems, or anemia.
Dr. Al Essai says because carbon monoxide poisoning affects people differently, depending on the duration and frequency of exposure, it can be challenging to recognize. He says anyone who suspects carbon monoxide poisoning should not ignore their symptoms and when seeking medical attention should indicate they suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.
“If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get help immediately. Open doors and windows to allow fresh air into the space and call for help. Carbon monoxide poisoning is so dangerous that treatment will be administered immediately if suspected and normally involves breathing pure oxygen to increase oxygen levels in the blood and to help remove carbon monoxide from the blood. The use of a pressurized oxygen device (known as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber) may also be part of the treatment. Most patients with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning will remain under clinical observation for up to 48 hours,” said Dr. Al Essai.
To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning Dr. Al Essai recommends never using a gas-powered generator indoors, including inside a camper or tent, ensuring battery-operated electronic heating appliances are approved; approved appliances will include an authorization number or mark, and never burning charcoal or wood indoors unless it is in an approved indoor wood-burning or charcoal-burning appliance. He also says residents should never use a gas range or oven for heating as this can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide inside the home, cabin, or camper.
When camping, Dr. Al Essai advises to keep at least a five-meter distance between tents and the cooking area and he recommends fire pits be at least 60cm deep. He says portable propane stoves should be turned off when not in use, fuel canisters should be stored safely, and smoking areas should be placed far away from tents and other flammable items. He also recommends ensuring safety equipment like fire extinguishers, fire blankets, and first-aid kits are readily accessible.