Who is Most at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

by | Jul 1, 2017 | Safety | 0 comments

With hundreds of Americans dying from carbon monoxide poisoning each year, everyone should take steps to protect themselves. However, certain groups are more at risk than others.

To understand why carbon monoxide affects people differently, let’s take a quick look at why too much of it is such a bad thing in the first place.

Here’s how it works: when you breathe in carbon monoxide, it enters your bloodstream and meets up with your red blood cells, which are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout your body. Carbon monoxide + haemoglobin = bad news. When CO gets involved, it robs your blood of its ability to carry oxygen around, which means your body’s cells and tissues can’t survive–and neither can you.

Who’s Affected Most?

Pregnant Women

While pregnant, a woman’s ability to carry oxygen through the bloodstream is already decreased because of carbon monoxide production from the fetus. Additionally, pregnant women breathe at a higher rate than non-pregnant adults, which means they’ll take in more carbon monoxide than others, no matter how much is in the air.

Unborn Babies

Sadly, the filtering nature of the placenta does not protect the unborn baby from carbon monoxide.  Fetal blood cells absorb more carbon monoxide than their adult counterparts, and it takes longer for carbon monoxide to leave the fetus’s blood, which means carbon monoxide can cause harm to an unborn child without producing dramatic effects in adults nearby. In fact, there have been a few cases of fetuses dying from carbon monoxide poisoning, even though the mother survived.

Infants and Young Children

Kids breathe more than adults do, which means they are more exposed to whatever happens to be in the air.  When exposed to the same level of carbon monoxide as an adult, their smaller bodies will more quickly absorb the poisonous gas.  Since children’s lungs are still developing, studies have shown that exposure to air pollutants like carbon monoxide can result in poor lung development that leads to respiratory problems as adults.    

People with Heart Disease

Since those suffering from heart disease already have insufficient blood supply to various parts of their bodies, a decreased ability for that same blood to carry oxygen is a problem.

People with Anemia

People with anemia have lower levels of red blood cells, meaning they already have to make do with less oxygen than the rest of us. This means it takes less carbon monoxide intake to cause a real problem.

People with Breathing Problems

Trouble breathing often means people are not able to pump enough blood throughout their bodies to supply optimal levels of oxygen. Too much carbon monoxide makes this problem even worse.

The Elderly

Because they are already more likely to be suffering from multiple health problems like the ones listed above, the elderly are more likely to be affected by carbon monoxide poisoning. Their bodies are also less able to deal with oxygen-deprivation, meaning that the negative effects of excessive carbon monoxide can be magnified.

BMJ Clinical Evidence, provided by the National Center for Biotechnology Information
Mayo Clinic
UK National Health Service
US National Library of Medicine