What does Carbon Monoxide do?

Within the body, red blood cells carry oxygen by creating a bond with haemoglobin, resulting in oxyhaemoglobin. Carbon monoxide has an affinity around 200 times more with haemoglobin over oxygen, meaning it will combine to create carboxyhaemoglobin over oxyhaemoglobin. With carboxyhaemoglobin, this decreases the oxygen-carrying capacity and the release of oxygen to tissues and cells, leading to tissue/cell hypoxia.

Where a person is exposed to a significant amount of Carbon monoxide, either through a sudden high dose or a build-up over a time frame, this can have serious physiological effects due to high levels of tissue/cell hypoxia, leading to asphyxiation.

Examples of a sudden high dose could be an individual using a charcoal grill in a tent or caravan with no ventilation. Long term examples could include a faulty boiler producing Carbon monoxide into a household with residents being affected over a long period of time.

As Carbon monoxide poisoning sets in, patients will experience a range of symptoms such as:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Lethargy
  • Confusion
  • Chest pains
  • Shortness of breath
  • Neurological deficit/decline

At a dangerous level, Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to a coma state and death.