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Carbon Monoxide Exposure


Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous gas that you cannot see, taste, or smell. Carbon monoxide exposure happens when you breathe in CO gas. You can be poisoned by exposure to high levels of CO. Patients with mild poisoning usually recover completely with oxygen treatment. Severe poisoning can cause permanent brain injury or be life-threatening.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Hyperbaric oxygen treatment may cause ear pain, hearing and eyesight problems, coughing, and chest tightness. Treatment can also cause seizures and lung problems. Even with treatment, your signs and symptoms may come back. You may have trouble thinking or remembering things, tremors or shaking, depression, or anxiety.

  • Without treatment, your signs and symptoms may become life-threatening. You may develop heart, lung, or brain problems. Your kidneys may stop working, or you may go into a coma or have a heart attack.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


  • Anticonvulsant medicine: This medicine is given to control seizures. Take this medicine exactly as directed.

  • Clot busters: This medicine helps break apart blood clots, which may increase blood flow to your heart muscle. It is given in your IV and may be given at the same time as other blood thinners. This medicine may decrease the amount of damage to your heart muscle, and may even save your life. You will bleed and bruise more easily after getting clot busters.


  • Neurologic exam: This can show how well your brain works after exposure to CO. Caregivers will check your pupils, memory, hand grasp, and balance.

  • Telemetry is continuous monitoring of your heart rhythm. Sticky pads placed on your skin connect to an EKG machine that records your heart rhythm.

  • Blood gases: This is a blood test that checks the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. It can tell how much CO you have been exposed to.

  • Blood tests: These check your overall health and check for other problems that CO poisoning may cause.

  • EEG: This test is also called an electroencephalogram. Many small pads or metal discs are put on your head. Each has a wire that is hooked to a machine. This machine prints a paper tracing of brain wave activity from different parts of your brain. Caregivers look at the tracing to see how your brain is working.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your lungs and heart. Caregivers use it to see how your lungs and heart are doing. Caregivers may use the x-ray to look for signs of infection like pneumonia, or to look for collapsed lungs. Chest x-rays may show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around the heart and lungs.

  • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of your brain. The pictures may show damage to your brain from CO poisoning. You may be given contrast dye before the pictures are taken to help caregivers see the pictures better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.

  • An echocardiogram is a type of ultrasound. Sound waves are used to show the structure and function of your heart.

  • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your brain. An MRI may show damage to your brain from CO poisoning. You may be given contrast dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the caregiver if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the caregiver if you have any metal in or on your body.

  • PET scan: This test can show how much oxygen is flowing to your brain.


  • You may need extra oxygen if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy: This is used to get more oxygen into your body. The oxygen is given under pressure to help it get into your tissues and blood. You remain in a room called a hyperbaric chamber during the treatment.

  • Endotracheal (ET) tube: An endotracheal tube may be put into your mouth or nose. It goes down into your windpipe to help keep your airway open and help you breathe. It may be hooked to a ventilator (breathing machine), and you may get extra oxygen through your ET tube. You will not be able to talk while the ET tube is in place.

  • IV therapy: Liquids are given through an IV to increase your body fluids and blood pressure.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.