A colorless, odorless, tasteless gas, carbon monoxide is often called “the silent killer” as these properties make it hard to detect. It is produced by the burning of gas, wood, propane, charcoal or other types of fuel via combustion engines, appliances or heating systems. While such sources are not usually a concern, if a car is left running in an enclosed space, or the appliance or heating system malfunctions or is used improperly, the build up of carbon monoxide may reach toxic levels, causing poisoning in those who are nearby.
According to WebMD, when the body breaths too much of the gas, “it replaces the oxygen in your blood. Without oxygen, cells throughout the body die, and the organs stop working.” In the United States alone, carbon monoxide poisoning kills more than 400 people each year, so it’s important to be mindful of these seven signs and symptoms in order to seek medical attention right away.
1. Dull Headache
According to the NHS, the most common early warning sign of mild carbon monoxide poisoning is “a tension-type headache.” ASecureLife.com says that past victims often describe it as “a continuous headache that sits at the front of the head and generates a dull pain.”
Headaches are all too easy to dismiss, so it’s important to be mindful of whether they occur in a consistent setting, such as in your home, vehicle or at work. You may also notice that they tend to dissipate quickly after leaving the location where the leak is occurring.
2. Muscle Weakness and Dizziness
As the carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the blood, causing cells to die, muscle weakness can occur. This may make regular activities such as walking far more challenging.
Dizziness is another common early warning sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. In severe cases, if enough carbon monoxide is inhaled in it may result in loss of consciousness, such as fainting.
3. Nausea or Vomiting
The early warning signs of mild carbon monoxide poisoning will often resemble symptoms associated with the influenza, such as nausea, vomiting and fatigue.
Unlike the flu, however, the NHS says that “carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t cause a high temperature (fever).” If multiple people in a household are experiencing these symptoms, or they’re experienced in conjunction with others noted in this article, it may be cause for concern.
4. Shortness of Breath
As carbon monoxide builds up in the blood, symptoms may get considerably more severe. A shortness of breath or rapid breathing is one such indicator. Special attention should be paid to this symptom if it is affecting numerous people within a household.
Along with shortness of breath, a person with carbon monoxide poisoning may also feel tightening or pain in the chest area. Such chest pain may also be accompanied by tachycardia, “a heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute,” says the NHS.
5. Confusion and Drowsiness
A person’s ability to think clearly may also be impacted by the build-up of carbon monoxide, leading to confusion, impaired judgement, memory problems and, in some cases, hallucinations.
Carbon monoxide poisoning may also cause a person to feel drowsy. Although CarbonMonoxideKills.com says that people often dismiss this symptom as non-concerning, causing them to “go to sleep and continue to breathe the carbon monoxide until severe poisoning or death occurs.”
6. Blurred Vision
As a lack of necessary oxygen affects the brain, blurred vision is another symptom to be mindful of. WebMD notes that this symptom is less common and typically only occurs in severe cases “as carbon monoxide builds up in your blood.”
Should you experience vision issues, especially in conjunction with any other symptoms on this list, be sure to seek medical attention immediately.
In severe cases, carbon monoxide poisoning may cause a person to experience a seizure, which the NHS defines as “an uncontrollable burst of electrical activity in the brain that causes muscle spasms.”
Because seizures generally only occur in near-fatal circumstances, medical attention should be sought immediately, but, unfortunately, the poisoning may be past the point of recovery.