What are the medical effects of carbon monoxide
and how do I recognize them?
Carbon monoxide, when inhaled, deprives your body of the oxygen it needs to survive. It does this by combining with the hemoglobin in your blood. Normally oxygen is transported by hemoglobin, but when carbon monoxide is present, it combines with the hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) instead of oxygen. This bond with carbon monoxide is 200 times stronger than the bond with oxygen, so it is difficult for your body to eliminate the CO buildup from your bloodstream. That is why carbon monoxide can cause poisoning slowly over a period of several hours, even in low concentrations.
The symptoms of CO poisoning are commonly mistaken for other illnesses such as the flu or a cold. Concentration levels of CO in your bloodstream can cause:
10% concentration – no apparent symptoms (heavy smokers can have as much as 9% COHb)
15% concentration – mild headache
25% concentration – nausea, serious headache (quick recovery after treatment with oxygen or fresh air)
30% concentration – intensified headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased pulse and respiration (potential for long-term effects, especially in infants, children, the elderly, victims of heart disease and pregnant women)
45% concentration – unconsciousness, possible collapse, convulsions, coma and eventually death.
50%+ concentration – death
CAUTION: Carbon monoxide especially affects unborn babies, infants, people with anemia or a history of heart or respiratory disease and pregnant women.