Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is toxic to oxygen-dependent organisms. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of fuels and has a density similar to oxygen. This density allows CO to evenly fill a room as oxygen would.
CO, once inhaled, becomes toxic by binding to the red blood cells at a rate higher than oxygen and refusing to let go. Because of this, a person can breathe all the oxygen they desire without benefit as the red blood cells are all pre-occupied with transporting CO molecules. This can lead to a death that would be similar to suffocation, despite the victim being able to breathe, because the body’s cells would be starved of oxygen even though it is available in the air inhaled.
The first step to fighting Carbon Monoxide poisoning is avoiding it ever happening in the first place. Any combustion engine spews CO as a byproduct, as do fires fueled by wood, coal, paper, or anything similar. If this occurs in a space with poor ventilation, carbon monoxide levels will rise to levels that are toxic. Ventilation is not always enough, however, as a major cause of CO poisoning, according to the CDC, is swimming behind or being towed by motorboats. Another common cause is children in the back of pick-up trucks with camper shells.
If exposure to CO does occur, it is important to detect the injury as quickly as possible. Signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are confusion, dizziness, shortness of breath, “cherry red” skin, vomiting, and unconsciousness.
To treat this injury, speed is important. Keep the victim calm and prevent them from exerting themselves as they don’t have enough oxygen available to support much activity. Remove the person to fresh air that is well clear of any smoke or fumes and put them in a position that allows them to breathe as best as possible. If medical oxygen is available, apply it with a mask at a minimum of 15 liters per minute. If you are unsure of oxygen tank settings, open up the valve to the highest setting possible. To keep the person calm may prove to be a challenge as they will likely be confused. After that, not much can be done in the field or by the lay person. The definitive treatment for CO injuries is to use advanced airway protection as needed and to put the victim into a hyperbaric chamber, making it imperative to get the victim to a hospital quickly.
Without special equipment, carbon monoxide is hard to fight once it has entered the bloodstream. Because of this, it is crucial to prevent the exposure in the first place. Common sources of CO poisoning include gas, diesel, and propane fueled vehicles and machines such as chainsaws, forklifts, and cars. Other sources include aerosol dispensers, such as spray paint, sterno stoves, and grills. As always, prevention is the best medicine.
Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.