HBO Unit Helps Those Suffering From Severe Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
A hyperbaric oxygen chamber delivers 100 percent oxygen to a patient. People with severe carbon monoxide poisoning receive three treatments in 24 hours.
Carbon monoxide is known as the "silent killer" because it is odorless, tasteless and colorless — and is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States.
Those who are exposed to high levels of carbon monoxide and are showing serious problems, such as loss of consciousness, can receive treatment at the Inova Mount Vernon Hospital Hyperbaric Oxygen Unit.
"If you do aggressive hyperbaric oxygen treatment, you'll prevent neurological problems down the road," notes Bill Bartow, PA-C, Clinical Director of the Hyperbaric Medicine Unit.
Inova Mount Vernon's Hyperbaric Oxygen Unit is unique in the region because it serves people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Many other HBO units are only open during the week from 9 to 5. "We've been doing this since 1984," Bartow says. "We've never had a break in service. Inova is committed to making sure we treat not only the 'easy patients,' but those with an urgent need in the community."
The Unit has two hyperbaric oxygen chambers, each fitting one person. People with carbon monoxide poisoning who need hyperbaric oxygen receive three treatments in 24 hours. The Unit typically sees 12 carbon monoxide poisoning-related patients in a year. About one-third of the patients are "occupational exposure," meaning that they were exposed to the gas in a work environment, according to Alfred Kirkwood, DO, Medical Director of the Unit. The rest are a result of home exposures.
One of the scariest parts about carbon monoxide poisoning is that its symptoms are similar to the flu. Signs are headache, nausea, dizziness, vomiting and fatigue. Those with more severe cases may suffer from shock, confusion or seizures. People with milder cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can be treated with oxygen masks in the emergency room.
"I would say it's underrecognized," Dr. Kirkwood notes. "There are many more cases out there. Patients or people in general need to know you don't operate a gas-operated machine inside an enclosed environment."
Common sources of carbon monoxide gas in the home are gas heaters or furnaces. Also, portable, gas-powered generators, if left to run inside, also can cause poisoning. Even in the garage, a generator can emit fumes that can seep into the home. A typical cause in the work environment is gas-powered power tools.
The best way to prevent accidental poisonings in
the home is to install a carbon monoxide detector,
Bartow says. Also, furnaces should be checked routinely to make sure they are not emitting carbon monoxide.
Common sources of carbon monoxide:
- Automobiles, trucks, buses, boats
- Gas heaters and furnaces
- Small gasoline engines
- Space heaters
- Portable, gas-powered generators
- Wildland fires
- Cigarette smoke
- Paint stripper
To learn more about hyperbaric oxygen therapy, go here.
HBO experts offer information on treatments and services.