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Hazards of carbon monoxide poisoning

Cars emit carbon monoxide from exhaust pipes. Carbon monoxide attaches to the haemoglobin of red blood cells and prevents them from carrying oxygen. Severe carbon monoxide poisoning can cause coma (unconsciousness) or irreversible brain damage due to oxygen deprivation.

Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas that when inhaled, prevents the blood from carrying oxygen and prevents the tissues from using oxygen effectively. Small amounts are not usually harmful, but poisoning occurs if levels of carbon monoxide in the blood become too high.

Carbon monoxide disappears from the blood after several hours. Smoke from fires commonly contains carbon monoxide, particularly when combustion of fuels is incomplete. If improperly vented, automobiles, furnaces, hot water heaters, gas heaters, kerosene heaters and stoves (including wood stoves and stoves with charcoal) can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Inhaling tobacco smoke produces carbon monoxide in the blood, but usually not enough to result in symptoms of acute poisoning. Symptoms and Diagnosis Mild carbon monoxide poisoning causes headache, nausea, vomiting, drowsiness and poor coordination. Most people who develop mild carbon monoxide poisoning recover quickly when moved into fresh air. Moderate or severe carbon monoxide poisoning causes confusion, unconsciousness, chest pain, shortness of breath and coma.

Thus, most victims are not able to move themselves and must be rescued. Severe poisoning is often fatal. Rarely, weeks after apparent recovery from severe carbon monoxide poisoning, symptoms such as memory loss, poor coordination, and uncontrollable loss of urine (which are referred to as neuropsychiatry symptoms) develop. Carbon monoxide is dangerous because a person may not recognize drowsiness as a symptom of poisoning.

Consequently, someone with mild poisoning can go to sleep and continue to breathe the carbon monoxide until severe poisoning
or death occurs. Some people with long-standing, mild carbon monoxide poisoning caused by furnaces or heaters may mistake their symptoms for other conditions, such as the flu, malaria or other viral infections.

This is an alert and should be known that it has occurred and can occur and will continue to occur in places where people go to sleep with charcoal stoves burning in houses or rooms with poor ventilation. Residents in cold places like Mbeya, Iringa, Arusha, Lushoto and other places to improve ventilation when charcoal/wood stoves are used.

In Forensic pathology/medicine where cause of death is suspected due to carbon monoxide poisoning, diagnosis is reached by measuring the level of carbon monoxide in the blood. Treatment and prevention For mild poisoning, fresh air may be all that is needed. To treat more severe poisoning, high concentrations of oxygen are given, usually through a facemask.

Oxygen hastens the disappearance of carbon monoxide from the blood and relieves symptoms. The value of high-pressure oxygen treatment (in a hyperbaric chamber) remains uncertain. To prevent poisoning, sources of indoor combustion, such as gas space heaters, wood stoves and charcoal stoves require properly installed ventilation.

If such ventilation is impractical, an open window can limit carbon monoxide accumulation by allowing it to escape from the building. Exhaust pipes attached to furnaces and other heating appliances need periodic inspection for cracks and leaks. Chemical detectors are available for the homes that can sensor carbon monoxide in the air and sound alarms when it is present. I hope the modern storey buildings and for all the newly constructed buildings need to be installed with such gadgets for smoke detection.

Constant monitoring with such detectors can identify carbon monoxide before poison develops. Like smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors are recommended for all homes.

amzigetz@yahoo.com, 0713 410 531

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Author: DR ALI MZIGE

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