Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms

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What is carbon monoxide (CO)?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a highly poisonous gas. It is particularly dangerous because it is colorless, tasteless and odorless. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing fuels. These may be gasoline, natural gas, liquid petroleum, oil, kerosene, wood, charcoal or coal.

The CO may be from an automobile engine, emergency generator, charcoal grill, furnace, space heater, fireplace, oven, clothes dryer or hot water heater. When these appliances are not adequately ventilated or properly maintained, CO can build up and reach dangerous levels. CO poisoning can occur inside any confined area including a home, garage, covered porch, boat, or tent.

CO is a deadly poison because it competes with oxygen for binding sites on hemoglobin, the life-giving molecule in red blood cells that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Since CO binds to hemoglobin with an affinity 200-270 times greater than oxygen, the body is quickly starved for oxygen. Each year almost 300 people die in the US from CO exposure, and many more become ill from it.

Healthy people can be poisoned by CO.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 6/9/2016

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