Carbon Monoxide: the Silent Threat

PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. -- “Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized, “ according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The primary way that you can be exposed to carbon monoxide is from fumes or exhaust from fuels that haven’t been fully oxidized during combustion to produce carbon dioxide. With this being said you may already be thinking of some ways that you may be exposed to this during your day-to-day lives.

Some sources might include, but are not limited to, exhaust from your car or other combustion engine, some older stoves, fireplaces, or even welders. As you can see there are a wide variety of sources, some common some not so common, for you to be exposed to carbon monoxide.

You may have seen news articles or even heard safety talks about the dangers of carbon monoxide, but you may not know the full extent of how this affects your body. Carbon monoxide bonds with your body’s hemoglobin, which are molecules in your blood that are responsible for oxygen transport, at a much greater rate than oxygen, roughly 250 times greater.

Since carbon monoxide affects your body’s ability to transport oxygen to your tissues, this causes a decrease in the amount of oxygen available for absorption in the tissues. This state is called hypoxia. Carbon monoxide exposure causes a specific type of hypoxia known as hypemic hypox-ia.

The Federal Aviation Administration states that “the most common cause for hypemic hypoxia in aviation is when carbon monoxide is inhaled because of aircraft heater malfunctions, engine manifold leaks, or cockpit contamination with exhaust from other aircraft.”
Because carbon monoxide impairs your body’s ability to transport oxygen, a wide variety of symptoms result.

The CDC states that, “the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion.”

“Carbon monoxide symptoms are often described as ‘flu-like.’ If you breathe in a lot of carbon monoxide, it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.”

Please keep in mind that these are the most common symptoms, but every function in your body requires oxygen and the way we function can differ from person-to-person making this list not all inclusive. Symptoms can sometimes go undetected, so the CDC emphasizes prevention to mitigate the carbon monoxide threat.

Taking an analytical approach to carbon monoxide poisoning is the best way to prevent exposure to this very stealthy substance. Com-mon tips include; do not use combustion engines indoors, avoid using items for unintended purposes, such as using a gas stove for heat or make sure you repair leaky exhausts properly instead of a quick patch.
There are also many sensors to identify if this gas is present in dangerous quantities in your home. These detectors can be both wall mounted and handheld. Bottom line: make sure you have a carbon monoxide prevention plan because you could be exposed to this silent threat at any time.

We are human performance enhancement consultants. Here for you—providing a multitude of services. Call us today 719-556-4185 to see how we can help your organization. For more information about carbon monoxide and hypoxia see these websites: https://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.ht and https://www.faa.gov/pilots/training/airman_education/topics_of_interest/hypoxia/