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Misconceptions about Carbon Monoxide
Carbon Monoxide is Not Well Understood
Properties, Presence & Detection:
- CO is easy to detect.
- CO is lighter than air and therefore rises (to the ceiling) and stays there.
- CO is not combustible.
- CO and natural gas are the same thing.
- You can always tell if CO is present because of a peculiar odor that will be present.
- A brand new, well designed, perfectly "tuned" heating/cooking device cannot produce toxic/lethal amounts of CO.
- Diesel engine exhaust never contains adequate CO to cause harm.
- HVAC and gas company personnel always check for CO when performing maintenance/service on home heating systems.
- CO will be detected immediately by service personnel if it is present in a home heating system.
- When your home CO detector shows low levels of CO, it is probably just an instrument malfunction.
- Cracks in heat exchangers are responsible for production of CO.
- Home CO detectors/sensors are the best devices to ferret out CO because they react to very low levels of the gas.
- CO binding to hemoglobin is irreversible.
- CO (caused) hypoxia is no more serious than any other type of hypoxia.
- CO poisoning is no more serious than an anemia in which there is a comparable amount of hemoglobin able to carry oxygen.
- Small animals (birds, mice, etc.) die more quickly because their hemoglobin binds CO more avidly than that of humans, thus they were used as alarms for CO in mines.
- The fetus is protected from CO by the maternal body.
- Good COHb measurements can be obtained one day to a week after a person leaves the site of the CO poisoning.
- Breathing "clean" air for 2-3 hours will eliminate all CO from the body.
- Breathing 100% oxygen for 20-30 minutes will eliminate all CO from the body.
- Breathing (filter) masks protect the wearer from inhalation of CO.
- The skin, nail beds, etc. of people with CO poisoning are invariably red or pink in color.
- Fever is a symptom of CO poisoning.
- Nasal congestion, cough and hoarseness are symptoms of CO.
- The lungs are inflammed by low to moderate levels of CO and will show pathology on X-rays.
- Symptom clusters involving prolonged headache, dizziness, nausea, and fatigue of the whole family should be blamed on viruses, bad food, or group craziness.
- Everyone responds to CO in the same way, ie. show the same symptoms.
Even More Misconceptions
- Inhalation of 100% oxygen from a re-breathing mask or from nasal prongs are recommended best immediate means of removing CO from the body.
- Victims of CO poisoning should be released from medical care immediately following 1-2 hours of oxygen treatment, whether or not their symptoms have disappeared.
- There is no need for repeat COHb measurements, psychometric tests, or other clinical tests following medical treatment for CO poisoning.
- People who recover from CO poisoning are always completely normal.
- Depression and personality change never result from CO poisoning.
- CO exposure never produces brain damage unless there is a period of unconsciousness.
- Low / moderate CO exposure cannot produce brain damage or significant changes in functional performance.
- In environments containing CO, the levels of CO2, oxygen and other gases are unimportant in the degree of poisoning.
- Physicians receive adequate training in the diagnosis and treatment of CO poisoning in medical school.
- Physicians obtain adequate experience with CO poisoning in treating their patients.
- Psychiatrists and neurologists are the best medical professionals of choice to determine the extent of CNS damage caused by CO.
High-tech imaging devices (CT, MR, SPECT) always shows areas of brain damage from CO poisoning, if it exists.
Used with permission from the author David G. Penney, PH.D.
Upland Mechanical • 605 Upland Road Pikesville, MD • (410) 415-5922