Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The studies by Haldane and Killick probably give the best description of the effects of exposure to carbon monoxide (CO).15,16 The symptoms, when they appear, are progressive, roughly paralleling the blood levels of CO. Initially, the signs and symptoms are often subtle. At levels of 0-10% carboxyhemo-globin saturation, there are generally no symptoms. In individuals at rest, CO levels from 10 to 20% are often symptomless, except for a headache. If tested, however, these individuals will show impairment in the execution of complex tasks. Haldane experienced no ill effects at levels up to 18-23%. Killick's symptoms were negligible below 30%, though, between 30 and 35%, she had a headache with throbbing and fullness of the head.16 Between 30-40% CO, there was a throbbing headache, nausea, vomiting, faintness and drowsiness even at rest. As levels approach 40%, the slightest exertion caused faintness. Pulse and respiration are rapid. Blood pressure falls. Between 40-60% CO, there is mental confusion, weakness and loss of coordination. Haldane at 56% was unable to walk unaided.15 At 60% CO and beyond, individuals lose consciousness, develop Cheyne-Stokes respiration, have intermittent convulsions, depressed heart action and respiratory failure, and die. An elevated body temperature may be present.

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