Carbon Monoxide - Advances in Medical Knowledge

The danger of carbon monoxide has been recognized in terms of its hypoxic effect for some time. This happens because carbon monoxide binds with the red blood cells or hemoglobin at a rate 240 times greater than does oxygen. This displaces oxygen in the transport to the organs of the body that are so dependent upon the constant replenishment of oxygen supply. The brain and the heart are the two largest consumers of oxygen in the body. It is now becoming recognized that carbon monoxide also causes a cascade of inflammatory effects that damage the brain and heart even after the carbon monoxide or carboxy hemoglobin levels have declined.

Two years ago a significant study from Minneapolis demonstrated a significantly higher than expected rate of death from congestive heart failure in the seven years following moderate to severe but non-lethal exposure to carbon monoxide. Now doctors in Salt Lake City, Utah are studying the effects of carbon monoxide on the heart and finding that cardiomyopathy and reduced ejection fractions are being seen in a much higher than expected number of people who have had so called mild or subacute exposures to carbon monoxide.

How to Recognize Carbon Monoxide

A carbon monoxide detector in the home, or several, is the best line of defense. There are detectors made with digital read outs which are significantly advantageous because the detectors are not designed to alarm until there is enough carbon monoxide in the air, for a long enough time, to cause a 10% carboxyhemoglobin level in the blood. Lower levels should be recognized and proper attention paid to eliminating the potential causes. The EPA considers levels in excess of 9 parts per million to potentially dangerous to human health. A carbon monoxide detector will not alarm if it is exposed to 30 parts per million for a month. It must reach levels such as 70 parts per million for 2 hours in order to alarm.

Carbon monoxide at less than fatal levels causes a wide array of symptoms that often begin with severe headaches. It then will often produce what are called flu-like symptoms meaning pain or achiness throughout the body. It can progress to severe fatigue, incoordination, foot drop, memory loss, diminution of visual processing, balance problems, necrosis of the sweat glands and other signs and symptoms. The cognitive and motor problems are likely a sign of brain damage. Unfortunately, many doctors are not sufficiently attuned to the dangers of subacute exposures to carbon monoxide or miss the diagnosis because it resembles other things.

If you are experiencing symptoms such as those described above and particularly if more than one member of your family is, and you think that you may have any possibility of poor combustion from your heating system or outside automobile exhaust you should go directly to the emergency room, describe your symptoms, your concern about carbon monoxide and ask them to test you for carboxy hemoglobin levels. You should explain why you think you may have been exposed to carbon monoxide and describe the source such as a poorly functioning furnace or hot water heater. Carboxyhemoglobin levels are determined by a simple blood test, that must be requested, and is diagnostic of carbon monoxide exposure. It is important to go promptly from the source of exposure to having the blood drawn when you are suffering symptoms because the half life of carboxy hemoglobin is about four hours and you will miss the peak readings if you delay in being tested even for a matter of a few hours.

Tom Gowen of the Locks Law Firm is representing victims of carbon monoxide poisoning in various states and working with leading medical and engineering experts to prove these cases. If you have been exposed to carbon monoxide in an apartment, office building, motel, hotel, resort or other location and you believe that you may have suffered injury call us. We can help to evaluate your situation and your legal rights. If you have a case we can pursue it for you. For more information on carbon monoxide see our website here.

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