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Carbon Monoxide is Not Well Understood

Misconceptions

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.

More Misconceptions

Physiology

  • 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.

More Misconceptions

Symptoms

  • 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

Treatment, Outcome

  • 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.

Miscellaneous

  • 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.
The Furnace Guy, Inc. works with Amana AC products in Battle Creek MI.
 
The Furnace Guy, Inc. works with Aprilaire Indoor Comfort products in Battle Creek MI.
 
The Furnace Guy, Inc. works with White Rodgers Air Conditioner products in Kalamazoo MI.
 
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The Furnace Guy, Inc.
9536 Stadium Drive
Kalamazoo, MI 49009