Carbon monoxide is the ultimate silent killer. It lurks in nearly every home but has no smell, no taste, and no sound. Every year, at least 20,000 people visit the emergency room for carbon monoxide exposure and more than 400 patients die as a result.
If you’re accidentally exposed to carbon monoxide, immediate medical attention can make the difference between life or death. Carbon monoxide (CO2) has such a powerful impact on the body that ongoing therapy may be needed to overcome damage and regenerate the body’s innate healing capabilities.
What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when too much CO2 builds up in the air and is inhaled by a person or animal. Since this common gas is found in the fumes produced from all cars, trucks, stoves, grills, furnaces, and fireplaces, it’s impossible to avoid.
Carbon monoxide shouldn’t build up to dangerous levels, but it’s all too easy for system errors to cause excessive carbon monoxide emissions in an enclosed space. Even the simple act of turning on a car inside of a closed garage can trap enough CO to cause poisoning.
What Happens As a Result of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
In a healthy body, hemoglobin exists in the red blood cells to carry oxygen from the lungs to tissues all over the body. Hemoglobin also transports carbon dioxide out of tissues to be exhaled in respiration.
Carbon monoxide and hemoglobin bond more than 200 times easier than oxygen and hemoglobin. This means that oxygen can’t always find space inside hemoglobin if too much carbon monoxide is present.
When carbon monoxide poisoning occurs, hemoglobin becomes saturated with CO molecules, rejects oxygen from entering, and ultimately causes the body to become starved of oxygen. To make matters worse, the body can’t use carbon monoxide in any productive way. It deprives the brain, blood, and tissues of oxygen without delivering any benefits.
As a result, carbon monoxide poisoning causes distinct but gradual symptoms. If caught early enough, CO poisoning can be treated without lasting damage.
What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms change over time as the body becomes more and more deprived of oxygen.
Within the first few hours, many people experience subtle symptoms but don’t realize that the root cause is carbon monoxide. They often assume the flu or food poisoning is the culprit for these symptoms:
- Loss of balance and dizziness
- Dull headache
- Shortness of breath
Carbon monoxide poisoning is especially dangerous for people who are sleeping since extensive damage can occur before symptoms have a chance to reveal themselves and raise red flags. Children are also more vulnerable to carbon monoxide since they take breaths more frequently than adults.
If carbon monoxide poisoning isn’t identified and properly treated, serious complications can occur:
- Lifelong brain damage
- Heart damage
If you notice any of these symptoms or identify a potential source of carbon monoxide leaking into your home, call 911 immediately.
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The best way to address carbon monoxide poisoning is to replace all of the carbon monoxide inside your blood hemoglobin with fresh, healthy oxygen. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) is the most effective treatment to push carbon monoxide away and infuse the bloodstream with oxygen in order to reverse the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
How Does HBOT Treat CO Poisoning?
Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is an important treatment tool for both minor and severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning. Most of the core functions involved in injury recovery are oxygen-dependent, so it makes sense that increasing oxygen in the body can reverse the effects of carbon monoxide exposure.
Under normal circumstances, oxygen can only make its way through the blood by bonding to the hemoglobin of red blood cells. When carbon monoxide blocks oxygen from entering the red blood cells, the body becomes so deprived of oxygen that it’s’ not enough to simply inhale oxygen — the body needs concentrated oxygen flow to combat carbon monoxide poisoning.
When the body becomes flooded with oxygen through a treatment like HBOT, antibacterial activity immediately increases. Leukocytes, a type of white blood cell, gain strength and momentum from oxygen. They’re able to more effectively kill dangerous bacteria and free radicals while also removing dead cellular debris and carbon monoxide from the body.
Studies show that leukocytes perform best at oxygen levels above 300 mmHg, levels only achievable with supplemental oxygen through HBOT.
What Should You Expect During HBOT?
Hyperbaric therapy has evolved significantly since its early days. Modern HBOT technology is so advanced that it creates a relaxing and enjoyable experience — especially when you visit a practice committed entirely to hyperbaric medicine like R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics.
When you visit R3 Wound Care, you receive HBOT in a private, clear acrylic chamber where you can comfortably recline and speak to your treatment team as they monitor your entire procedure. The treatment is painless, although you may experience a sensation of pressure in your ears, very similar to the sensation you feel in an airplane while descending.
Most hyperbaric oxygen therapy sessions for carbon monoxide poisoning last about 90 minutes. You can spend that time listening to music, relaxing, reading a book, or watching TV. Your R3 Wound Care Expert will use blood tests and other assessments to determine how many HBOT sessions your body needs to fully recover from carbon monoxide poisoning.
Start Your Treatments While Time Is on Your Side
Carbon monoxide poisoning isn’t always obvious. It can happen over days or months if you’re exposed to continual low levels of carbon monoxide, or it can happen quickly with high levels of CO. Either way, recognizing your symptoms and seeking medical attention quickly will help you reverse symptoms and prevent long-term side effects.
The team at R3 Wound Care and Hyperbarics offers convenient locations across Texas so that you can receive treatment from experts who understand your unique needs and know exactly how to address your CO poisoning.
Call (210) 582-5304 to learn more about the R3 locations near you and schedule your first appointment. Making the decision to trust R3 with your wound care could make all the difference to your health and quality of life.
Lana Cameron has been practicing for over 30 years in several healthcare settings as a clinician and administrator. Her areas of practice include hospital acute care and primary care group practice. Lana received her BSN from UTMB Galveston, a MSN from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, and Post-Masters Certificate from UTHSC San Antonio. Lana is married and has five wonderful children.