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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning - Topic Overview

How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?

It can be hard to know if you have carbon monoxide poisoning. The same symptoms can be caused by flu or other problems. In the winter months, doctors may suspect carbon monoxide poisoning in people who complain of severe headache, nausea, or dizziness. This is especially true if other household members or coworkers have the same symptoms. Even pets in the home may get sick.

If your doctor suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, he or she can order a blood test that measures the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood. You may have other blood tests to check your overall health and to look for problems caused by carbon monoxide.

How is it treated?

The best treatment is oxygen therapy. Breathing pure oxygen can bring the oxygen level in the blood back to normal. There are two kinds of oxygen therapy:

  • 100% oxygen therapy. For this treatment, you breathe oxygen through a mask. This is the most common treatment.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy. For this treatment, you lie inside a chamber that delivers oxygen under high pressure. This quickly reduces carbon monoxide levels in the blood.

With quick treatment, most people recover within a few days. But long-term problems can show up later. Be sure to tell your doctor about any changes in vision, coordination, or behavior that occur in the weeks after treatment.

How can you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

Many people die every year from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. There are some easy steps you can take to reduce your risk. One of the most important is to see a doctor right away if you think you have symptoms.

Safe use of vehicles

  • Do not leave your car running in the garage, even if the garage door is open.
  • Do not ride in the back of a pickup truck with a camper shell.
  • Do not swim behind an idling boat.

Safe use of fuel-burning tools and appliances

  • Have all fuel-burning appliances (such as oil or gas heaters, stoves, water heaters, and space heaters, fireplaces, and woodstoves) inspected each year.
  • Check chimneys, flues, and vents regularly to make sure they are in good shape, properly connected, and not blocked.
  • Never use a kerosene or propane heater in an enclosed area, such as a camper, motor home, trailer, or tent.
  • Never use a gas or charcoal grill indoors.
  • Never use a gas oven to heat your home.
  • Do not close a fireplace or stove damper before the fire is completely out.
  • Do not use gas-powered generators, lawn equipment, or engines in enclosed areas.
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