Symptoms and Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 8/17/2021

Doctor's Notes on 19 Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Risks

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas. Signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning are many, people may display one or more, and are as follows: headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, flu-like symptoms, shortness of breath on exertion, impaired judgment, memory problems, walking problems, confusion, brain damage, depression, hallucinations, agitation, chest pain, drowsiness, visual changes, fainting, and/or seizures. Another potential sign of impending or ongoing carbon monoxide poisoning is being alerted by a carbon monoxide detector.

Carbon monoxide is formed when organic compounds burn. Causes of carbon monoxide poisoning are numerous. Common sources include motor vehicle exhaust, fires, engine fumes of any type, and non-electric heaters. Other common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning are as follows: gas water heaters, kerosene space heaters, propane heaters and stoves, gasoline and diesel-powered generators, propane fueled forklifts, indoor tractor pulls, boat engines, charcoal grills, cigarette smoke from wildfires, spray paint solvents, degreasers, and paint removers (especially if burnt).

What Is the Treatment for Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning?

The treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is as follows:

  • Get into fresh air immediately.
  • Call 911.
  • Breathe pure oxygen in transport and in the emergency department.
  • Your doctors may recommend that you spend some time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber to speed replacement of CO with oxygen.

If you cannot breathe well and symptoms increase, you may require a machine to breathe for you.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.