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The Nebraska Medical Center Urges Caution with Carbon Monoxide

Winter brings increased risk of CO poisoning

As winter approaches, staff at The Nebraska Medical Center’s hyperbaric oxygen unit are urging caution with furnaces, fireplaces, car engines and generators.

“Each year when the weather starts getting colder we treat patients who’ve been sickened by exposure to carbon monoxide,” said Alan Didier, RN, manager of the hyperbaric oxygen unit. “Just last week we treated four young patients who’d been exposed to CO by a generator that was running too close to a window at their home.”

In that case, the four patients, all between seven and 19 years of age, received two hyperbaric oxygen treatments before they were able to go home.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is a possibility anytime a person is around a poorly-ventilated fire, furnace or engine. It is a colorless, tasteless and odorless gas which can prevent the bloodstream from effectively carrying oxygen.

“The treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning is 100% oxygen,” said Lon Keim, MD, board certified physician at the hyperbaric oxygen unit at The Nebraska Medical Center.

Dr. Keim said the oxygen works by removing the carbon monoxide from the blood and returning the body to normal oxygen levels. Experts at the medical center agree that the best way to beat carbon monoxide poisoning is to prevent exposure in the first place.

“It can take anywhere from a matter of hours to a matter of days to cause a person to get sick from carbon monoxide,” Didier said. “It’s very important for people to remember not to run a car or a generator indoors or in a garage, and to make sure furnace and fireplace chimneys are clear.”

The initial signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache and dizziness. It can also cause flu-like symptoms, confusion, hallucinations and death.

“The use of hyperbaric oxygen for patient overcome by carbon monoxide is the gold standard for the treatment for CO poisoning,” Dr. Keim said. “Studies have shown that there may be faster recovery by using hyperbaric oxygen than just taking oxygen through a facemask.” During a hyperbaric oxygen treatment, the patient is placed inside a clear cylinder and surrounded by pressurized pure oxygen. A treatment lasts approximately 90 minutes. The Nebraska Medical Center’s hyperbaric oxygen unit is the only one of its kind in the region and has been operating on the medical center campus since 1986.