Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Based at Providence Portland Medical Center, Providence Hyperbaric Medicine is Oregon's only 24-hour hospital-based hyperbaric service.

During hyperbaric oxygen therapy, pressurized chambers with a 100 percent oxygen environment counter the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, smoke inhalation, and decompression illness in scuba divers, as well as promote tissue healing in patients with impaired circulation due to diabetes, trauma and radiation therapy.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that is produced during the burning of fuels (such as gasoline, kerosene, or wood). Carbon monoxide has no color or odor. If it builds up in an enclosed area without enough ventilation, it can be poisonous to humans. It often results from poorly maintained home furnaces. It can also be caused by portable stoves or heaters, gasoline engines, and smoke from house fires. 

CO poisoning keeps oxygen from getting to the brain, heart and other body organs. Symptoms may include:

  • Headache

  • Nausea and vomiting

  • Dizziness

  • Irritability

  • Drowsiness

  • Confusion

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fainting

  • Chest pain

  • Convulsions (seizures)

Certain severe effects may not show up for a few days to a few weeks. These may include memory loss, personality changes, and shaking (tremor).

Never ignore symptoms of CO poisoning.

Home care

  • Rest until you are feeling fully back to normal again. 

  • During at least the next 24 hours, do not smoke and avoid second-hand smoke. Tobacco smoke is a source of carbon monoxide.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Make sure there is enough fresh air in any area that has a lit fire. This includes rooms and outdoor areas with wood or gas fireplaces, fire pits, and stoves. Do not use portable heaters, stoves, or gasoline engines (cars, generators, etc.) in poorly ventilated areas.

  • Have all fuel burning appliances checked by a professional at the start of every cold weather season. This includes furnaces, water heaters, and ovens. Newly installed heaters must be vented according to the manufacturer's specifications.  Make sure you know how to use these appliances in a way that helps prevent CO poisoning.

  • Have your car exhaust inspected regularly.

  • Install and maintain smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors in your home.

  • Contact the Consumer Product Safety Commission at 800-638-2772 or www.cpsc.gov to learn how to reduce your risk for CO poisoning.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised if you do not feel back to normal in the next 24 hours, or if delayed symptoms appear during the next few weeks.

When to call 911

Call 911 or get immediate medical care if any of the following occur. They may be signs of re-exposure to the carbon monoxide source.

  • Return of the same symptoms that you were treated for

  • Headache, dizziness, fainting, shortness of breath, chest pain

  • Confusion, drowsiness or convulsions (seizures)