How can we absorb carbon monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning is increasing

DUSSELDORF. The number of treatments for poisoning with carbon monoxide (CO) has increased again compared to last year. The University Hospital Düsseldorf (UKD) therefore advises increased vigilance and caution.

By the end of November, more than 180 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning had been treated with hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBO) in the special pressure chamber at the UKD, including some in children. Around 50 cases of poisoning can be traced back to smoking hookahs, the UKD said in a statement.

Last year there were around 100 treatments at the same time, 40 of them by shishas. Defective gas boilers or a charcoal grill in the apartment also pose a risk. "Carbon monoxide poisoning is life-threatening," says Dr. Sven Dreyer, chief pressure chamber doctor at the UKD, is quoted in the communication.

Beginning of November 2018 in Bochum: The guest at a shisha bar complains of nausea and headaches. At the end of the evening the bar is completely cleared, more than 120 people are evacuated and looked after - four people are slightly injured, two people have to go to a special clinic.

The emergency services' conclusion: The victims suffered severe carbon monoxide poisoning - one of the main causes of fatal poisoning worldwide.

Unconsciousness with around 1.3 percent carbon monoxide in the air

The Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) assumes that a concentration of around 1.3 percent carbon monoxide in the air can lead to unconsciousness and death after just a few breaths.

The Bochum case makes it clear what many underestimate: Carbon monoxide (CO) is also produced when the water pipe charcoal is burned - especially when smoking quickly without taking off the pipe in closed rooms without sufficient air supply.

“This is a typical incident that we hear about again and again here in the pressure chamber at the Düsseldorf University Hospital. The danger of carbon monoxide is simply underestimated, ”reports Dreyer.

"The symptoms of CO poisoning begin with dizziness, go on to headache, nausea, vomiting, and even loss of consciousness and then at some point in seizures."

This is particularly treacherous because many of those affected initially interpret the symptoms as a general malaise or as a reaction to tobacco consumption, explains the experienced emergency doctor. “Many believe they are intoxicated.

By the time the emergency services are informed, it is sometimes too late. In order to prevent poisoning, good ventilation and an adequate supply of oxygen are required - this applies to private households, such as the popular shisha bars. CO alarms can help to identify the danger. "

Beware of the charcoal grill

In addition to the water pipes, other risk points include gas boilers that burn incompletely - for example because the burner is sooty. Professor Joachim Windolf, Director of the Clinic for Hand and Trauma Surgery at the UKD, also warns against setting up a charcoal grill or an open fire in closed rooms.

"When the charcoal is burned, the gas is created and cannot be extracted in closed rooms," explains the head of the Düsseldorf Accident Medicine, which also looks after the HBO pressure chamber. "Turning on the extractor hood, for example, is really bad - instead of just sucking out the smoke, it also draws the air and thus also the oxygen out of the apartment."

In the event of suspicion, you should open all windows immediately, leave the room immediately and notify the fire brigade. As a preventive measure, experts also always recommend buying carbon monoxide alarms. The small devices are attached to the wall and are available in every hardware store.

Important: Smoke detectors do not replace carbon monoxide detectors as they do not detect the gas. The UKD has a 12-person pressure chamber of the latest standards, which is ready for use 24 hours a day.

Here at the HBO - with the help of overpressure - 100 percent oxygen is administered via breathing masks in a controlled manner over precisely defined periods and intervals. The oxygen is passed on to the blood via the lungs and displaces the carbon monoxide (CO) from the red blood cells and the tissue.

In the event of poisoning, the CO reaches the bloodstream via the air we breathe and the lungs, where it settles on the hemoglobin. If CO is bound to the hemoglobin, the red blood cells can absorb the oxygen more difficultly and no longer transport it sufficiently, which in the worst case can lead to pronounced nerve damage, late neurological damage (e.g. memory disorders) and asphyxiation.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, there were 650 deaths from CO poisoning in Germany in 2015 - around 80 percent of the victims were male. (eb)