Carbon dioxide is a natural by-product of the various reactions that take place inside our body. Exposure to high levels of the gas can increase its amount in the blood. The result is carbon dioxide poisoning which is also referred to as hypercapnia or hypercarbia. In our blood, carbon dioxide is in equilibrium with bicarbonates. Hence, blood tests in case of hypercapnia may show increased levels of bicarbonates as well.
- Carbon dioxide is produced continuously by the cells of our body. Inability of the body in expelling this gas or exposure to air having high concentrations of the gas, leads to too much carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Re-breathing exhaled air due to conditions like sleeping in air tight tents or sleeping with heads covered in blankets can cause hypercapnia.
- Working in confined areas that have poor air circulation as in mines, holds of ships, or underground tunnels and shafts may also raise levels of carbon dioxide in the blood.
- Breathing in areas with high levels of the gas, such as areas close to a volcano makes one susceptible to such health problems.
- Scuba divers are particularly at risk. If carbon dioxide is not properly filtered out or in case their breathing equipment malfunctions, divers can suffer from high levels of the gas in blood.
- Some external sources that can cause carbon monoxide poisoning include cigarette smoke, gas water heaters, charcoal grills, boats with engine, diesel or gasoline powered generators, and spray paints.
- Besides these external conditions, medical conditions like lung diseases, respiratory problems, and neuromuscular disorder can also trigger CO2 poisoning.
Mild poisoning symptoms are:
- Muscle twitching
- Reduced neural activity
- Flushed skin
- High blood pressure
As the severity of hypercapnia increases, the following symptoms may be experienced:
- Elevated rate of cardiac output
- Irregular heartbeat
- Chest pain
- Stomach pain
- Memory problems
- Changes in vision
- Eventually death
- 'Prevention is better than cure'. Be alert if working in an environment with high levels of carbon dioxide in the air or if suffering from any medical condition that may make a person susceptible to carbon dioxide poisoning.
- In case a person is suffering from hypercapnia take him out to an environment where there is proper circulation of air.
- Individuals exposed to mild levels of carbon dioxide in air should recover fully on their own. However, if it is a case of severe toxicity, caused due to exposure to high levels of the gas, then it is best to call in an ambulance.
- It is important to ensure that the air passage of the patient is clear of any blockage.
- In case one has access to continuous positive airway pressure(CPAP), put the mask on the patient's mouth. This helps in restoring normal breathing by providing mechanical ventilation in case the patient's breathing is compromised.
- Medications to improve lung functions may also help.
- Ensure that the patient has enough amount of oxygen to breathe. Although such conditions are ideally provided in hospitals, portable oxygen tents or canisters of breathable oxygen can also be of help.
- Emergency supportive care, such as endotracheal intubation and hemodynamic support can also be administered. However, such steps are taken only under the supervision of healthcare professionals.
- People may also suffer from hypercapnia in case they are working at high altitudes. In such a case, move the patient to a lower altitude where the air has higher levels of oxygen in the atmosphere.
- The amounts of acid and oxygen in the blood of a patient should be checked regularly to determine the level of carbon dioxide in blood.
People working in conditions that do not have proper air circulation need to be aware of CO2 poisoning and its symptoms. Ensure whatever initial help you can provide to the patient. Even if the patient recovers, it is always advisable to take him to the physician and monitor the levels of the gas in blood through proper tests.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.