Feingold: Take precautions against carbon monoxide poisoning

Dr. Murray Feingold

During the recent winter storms, there were many reports concerning carbon monoxide, or CO, poisoning. Many people died or became seriously ill.

The toxic effects of carbon monoxide have been known as far back as 348 BC at which time Aristotle commented on it. In ancient times it was used as a method to execute criminals. The criminals were placed in an enclosed room with smoldering coals that produced CO.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, gas that has no odor. Therefore, people are unaware that they are being overly exposed to this deadly gas. It has been reported to be one of most common causes of illness and death by poisoning. Although most cases are accidental, CO poisoning is also used as a method of suicide.

There are many sources of carbon monoxide and it is particularly toxic when it is present in enclosed spaces. Although symptoms are usually present, many people are unaware of their significance. They can include a dull headache, feeling dizzy and weak, confusion, hallucinations, nausea and vomiting, and blurred vision. With continual exposure, shortness of breath, seizures, loss of consciousness and death may take place.

A symptom that has gained some attention is the "cherry-red" complexion of the skin and lips in patients with carbon monoxide poisoning. This is not a common symptom and usually takes place in the more severe cases.

Besides taking measures not to be exposed to CO gas, it is highly recommended that every home have a carbon monoxide detector. All homes should also have smoke detectors, and both of them need to be routinely checked to make certain they are in working order.

Patients who have more severe symptoms may undergo hyperbaric oxygen therapy. Its purpose is to remove the carbon monoxide out of the body at a faster rate. However, some researchers question if there are enough data presently available to confirm the effectiveness of this type treatment in patients with carbon monoxide poisoning.

It should be stressed that this potentially deadly disorder is a highly preventable one if individuals only take the necessary precautions.

Dr. Murray Feingold is the physician in chief of The Feingold Center for Children, medical editor of WBZ-TV and WBZ radio, and president of the Genesis Fund. The Genesis Fund is a nonprofit organization that funds the care of children born with birth defects, mental retardation and genetic diseases.