Carbon Monoxide (CO) is a colorless,
odorless gas produced by burning any fuel. The initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu, and include dizziness,
fatigue, headache, nausea and irregular breathing. A cascade of injuries may result from high or long-term exposure, affecting
vital organs in the body. High level exposure to CO can cause death. After carbon monoxide exposure, a complete blood count
should be performed including a red blood cell count, a white blood cell count, a differential count of a stained smear, and
a hemoglobin and hematocrit.
Chemically, inspired carbon monoxide molecules have a greater attraction to red blood cells than do oxygen (O2) molecules.
CO binds to the red blood cells in the blood stream, preventing oxygen molecules from displacing them. This causes
tissue hypoxia. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy reduces the attraction between the CO molecule
and the hemoglobin. Essentially, hyperbaric oxygen displaces respired poisonous gases from the bloodstream and overwhelms
the circulatory system with oxygen, allowing distribution of oxygen to important biological areas (such as the heart and brain)
until the poisonous gases are purged from the body.