Carbon monoxide, "the silent killer," is responsible for more poisonings than any other source in the industrialized world. As reported in the New York Times last year, recent research suggests as many as 11,000 undetected cases of CO poisoning occur annually. At particular risk are firefighters, who work takes them into close proximity with CO and other harmful products of combustion.
Detecting carbon monoxide poisoning in the field or in the emergency room can be difficult, since the symptoms are often flu-like and may be misdiagnosed as being caused by another condition. Early detection is critical. CO leaves the bloodstream quickly, but its effects on heart tissue and the brain can be lasting.
Last year a leading manufacturer of medical devices, Masimo, introduced a pulse oximetry device, the finger clip familiar to hospital patients, that can detect both oxygen and carbon monoxide levels in the blood. With the device, emergency room personnel and first responders have a better chance of identifying high levels of CO in the blood.
Now the company is working with the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) on a campaign to increase CO poisoning awareness and encourage firefighters to have their CO levels checked at the scene. Because the risks are significant and early detection critical, it's essential firefighters and other first responders understand the symptoms of CO poisoning and have the tools to identify it promptly.
We applaud their efforts. At HyperbaricLink we have a special interest in the issue of carbon monoxide poisoning and its neurologic effects. We also see the potential for increasing use of HBOT in first responder work and willcover both topics with dedication.
Although a multi-center, randomized controlled trial has not been conducted, hyperbaric oxygen therapy is used to treat both acute and chronic CO poisoning and the neurologic effects that result. The HyperbaricLink Evidence Index identifies four clinical trials being conducted to learn more about the treatment of CO poisoning with HBOT. The Undersea and Hyperbaric Medical Society, which approves the use of HBOT for CO poisoning, provides additional information here.
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