Posted on February 14, 2020

As the temperatures continue to drop, Dr Galal Saleh al Essai, consultant of Emergency Medicine at Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC), is warning residents about the health risks of burning charcoal and wood in enclosed spaces.

“During the colder months, some people seek ways to keep their homes warm and resort to burning coal or wood inside. When charcoal and wood burn without oxygen, they produce fossil fuels that release carbon monoxide - a colourless, tasteless and odourless gas. Carbon monoxide is very hard to detect, leading to people inhaling it and being poisoned. This can happen very quickly and is extremely dangerous,” said Dr Essai, who is also the vice-chairman of Corporate Affairs at HMC’s Emergency Department.

Dr Essai said carbon monoxide poisoning is so dangerous because the signs and symptoms can be easy to miss. He said many people dismiss the symptoms of mild carbon monoxide poisoning thinking they have food poisoning or the flu. “Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can start to appear within five to 20 minutes of exposure. Lower concentrations may lead to a delay in the onset of symptoms. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include a headache, dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, weakness and confusion. Anyone who develops symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should immediately get fresh air and seek emergency medical care,” said Dr Essai.

He said severe cases of carbon monoxide poisoning can result in muscle cramps, fainting, loss of consciousness and death due to a lack of oxygen to the heart and brain. He added that the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are particularly dangerous for children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic heart disease, respiratory problems or anemia. Dr Essai said because carbon monoxide poisoning affects people differently, depending on the duration and frequency of exposure, it can be challenging to recognise, adding that anyone who suspects carbon monoxide poisoning should not ignore their symptoms and when seeking medical attention, should indicate they suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

He added, “If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, get help immediately. Open doors and windows to allow fresh air into the space and call for help. Carbon monoxide poisoning is so dangerous that treatment will be administered immediately if suspected and normally involves breathing pure oxygen to increase oxygen levels in the blood and to help remove carbon monoxide from the blood. “The use of a pressurised oxygen device (known as a hyperbaric oxygen chamber) may also be part of the treatment. Most patients with suspected carbon monoxide poisoning will remain under clinical observation for up to 48 hours.”

To help prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, Dr Essai recommended never using a gas-powered generator indoors, including inside a camper or tent, ensuring battery-operated electronic heating appliances are approved; approved appliances will include an authorisation number or mark, and never burn charcoal or wood indoors unless it is in an approved indoor wood-burning or charcoal-burning appliance. He cautioned residents against using a gas range or oven for heating as this can cause a build-up of carbon monoxide inside the home, cabin or camper.

When camping, Dr Essai advised residents to keep at least a five-metre distance between tents and the cooking area and he recommended that fire pits should be at least 60cm deep. He said portable propane stoves should be turned off when not in use, fuel canisters should be stored safely and smoking areas should be placed far away from tents and other flammable items. He also recommended that safety equipment like fire extinguishers, fire blankets and first-aid kits should be readily accessible.

source: Qatar Tribune