Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer

During the spring and winter seasons, people prefer to go out for picnics and stay overnight in open spaces. Some people use firewood and coal while others prefer the natural heating or use kerosene heaters. Some may sleep in their vehicles where the engine does not work well or it is poorly ventilated.

These might result in the generation of Carbon monoxide - a highly poisonous gas that may result in dangerous outcomes. Recently, a local newspaper has reported that six people, who used coal for heating, were suffocated to death in one of the Kingdom's regions.

Where does it come from?

Carbon Monoxide is a result of incomplete combustion of carbon materials that could be because of the malfunction in the heater that uses flammable materials. This gas is dangerous for it has no color, taste, or smell, so it is hard to detect.

When inhaled, it seeps into the blood gradually and affects the hemoglobin levels, which is the oxygen-transferring medium inside the body. Hemoglobin also transfers oxygen from the lungs to the tissues so that they can absorb adequate oxygen.

Carbon Monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen transferred to the tissues and stops the remaining oxygen of the hemoglobin to be used when needed. This results in a severe lack of oxygen level in tissues causing symptoms of poisoning that shall be discussed.


Carbon Monoxide has 200 times higher capability than oxygen to mix with the hemoglobin, which accelerates the process of poisoning. Fortunately, the poisoning process is slow to a certain extent and requires 8-12 hours of exposure to the gas till it saturates the blood. But the symptoms may show prior to blood saturation and death may also occur prior to this.

Carbon Monoxide poisoning is amongst one of the causes of death that can be prevented easily. Nowadays, everywhere in the world, necessary precautions are taken for the same. This can occur very gradually in sleep unnoticed by the people inhaling it. So precautions must be taken for this silent killer. Cases of carbon monoxide poisoning among children are higher than adults because their breathing rate per minute is faster than adults - this increases the infiltration rate of the gas into blood, thus leading to poisoning.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The person may wake up with symptoms of poisoning but would have no idea about the cause. These symptoms include; Headache, Overall weakness, Tension, Nausea, Laziness, Dizziness, and Heart disorder. The symptoms reduce as the day passes, because pure oxygen mingles gradually into hemoglobin and the person is exposed to good ventilation.

If any person suffers in sleep because of the heater or heating system, then there is a possibility that carbon monoxide exists in the air. Dr. Al Moa'mry with his colleagues from The National Guard Hospital carried out a study (published in the Medical Saudi magazine in 2000) with a group of patients who were admitted in a hospital due to carbon monoxide poisoning. 71% of the injuries were caused using coal for heating while 21% was caused due to vehicle exhaust.

In addition to the previous symptoms, the poisoning may result in long-term complications affecting the human central nervous system, the physicians may have to resort to hypnosis of the patient and use respirators for him in the intensive care unit.


May Allah heal every patient!


Ahmed BaHammam, FACP, FCCP
Professor of Medicine
Director, University Sleep Disorders Center
College ofMedicine, King Saud University