Hamad General Hospital’s (HGH) Emergency Department has witnessed a sharp rise in the number of admissions caused by carbon monoxide poisoning. This has been due to residents burning wood or charcoal in confined spaces while trying to keep warm during the recent cold weather.
Carbon monoxide is a colourless, odourless gas which is highly toxic and can be fatal even in low concentrations when present in a confined space. Burning wood or charcoal indoors without proper ventilation causes the gas to build up, leaving occupants vulnerable to suffocation and other severe complications including permanent brain injury or death.
Commenting on the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning, Dr Dominic Jenkins, senior consultant, Emergency Medicine and Deputy Chair for Clinical Affairs at HMC, said that when charcoal is burned indoors for heating, it releases carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas.
As the charcoal burns, the amount of carbon monoxide in the room gradually increases - without the occupants of the room being able to detect it. As it is inhaled, carbon monoxide attaches to the hemoglobin in the blood preventing it from being able to carry oxygen.
"Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can start to appear within five to 20 minutes of exposure. However, lower concentrations may lead to a delay in the onset of symptoms and chronic exposure may cause symptoms to appear over days, weeks or months," Dr Jenkins said.
"Mild carbon monoxide poisoning may feel like food poisoning or the flu, although unlike the flu, carbon monoxide poisoning does not cause fever. Symptoms can include headache, tiredness, dizziness, nausea or vomiting. More severe cases of poisoning may cause muscle cramps and fainting and loss of consciousness due to the poor delivery of oxygen to the heart and the brain. The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, people with chronic heart diseases, respiratory problems or anaemia," he explained.
Dr Jenkins advised that residents should not light wood or charcoal fires indoors or in enclosed spaces and should only use approved heating appliances. If symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are suspected, occupants should immediately leave the building and call 999 or seek medical assistance.