The Connection Between Strokes, Heart Attacks, and Carbon Monoxide

on Jan 19, 2021
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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning.

You could be outside jogging or walking from your car into a store and pass by an idling vehicle. You won't ever know if there was carbon monoxide coming from that vehicle's tailpipe, and if so, how concentrated it was. If it's an older car or a leak in the exhaust system, carbon monoxide will be present.

Unfortunately, carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms can appear immediately, 15 minutes later, or even days later. This is precisely why people rarely put two and two together and realize that their symptoms might have been caused by that idling truck they walked past in the parking lot on a windless day.

Research has shown that any amount of carbon monoxide exposure is very harmful to your health.

Years ago, the famous health contributor, Ted from Bangkok, copied Earth Clinic on an email about an older man in India who had a stroke and fell into a coma after taking a walk. Ted replied to the relative who was writing to him seeking remedies for his father that carbon monoxide poisoning was an often under-reported cause of strokes and heart attacks, especially in areas with a lot of vehicular pollution.

Fifteen years later, I was reminded of Ted's email when I was raking leaves at the bottom of my driveway in early November. Two delivery trucks drove up to my street and parked nearby. They kept their engines idling while running the packages to myself and the neighbor across the street and then zoomed off. I kept raking leaves at the bottom of my hill, even though I could smell a lot of exhaust in the air.

Within a minute or two, I was very nauseous. After another few minutes, one of my temples began throbbing, and a dull headache quickly set in. Ten minutes later, I was suddenly exhausted and had to lie down.

Even though my dull frontal headache dissipated quickly, it took another 48 hours to feel "normal" again.

Remembering what Ted had written about outdoor carbon monoxide poisoning, I went online and started to research the subject.

I soon discovered that I had all the early onset symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning; dull headache, nausea, extreme fatigue, and brain fog.

I subsequently set off on a multi-month journey to learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning and how to recover from it. Not the rare instance of CO poisoning from your furnace or idling car in the garage, which is what most articles focus on, but specifically carbon monoxide emissions from motor vehicles.

I quickly discovered that there is astoundingly very little research on the subject, even though carbon monoxide is a deadly gas. Let us never forget that the Nazis used carbon monoxide in two Concentration Camps during WWII.

Unfortunately, it appears that outdoor carbon monoxide poisoning is a deeply neglected consideration in medicine, which is very strange given the dire consequences of inhaling it, such as brain and heart damage from just one high concentration exposure.

This article explains what happens when carbon monoxide enters your bloodstream via your lungs or your eyes and the serious health issues that can arise from these frequent, unavoidable, outdoor carbon monoxide exposures.


What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas created whenever fossil fuel is burned.

Carbon monoxide consists of one carbon atom and one oxygen atom, giving it the abbreviated name of CO.

Carbon monoxide is slightly lighter than air.  Specifically, air typically has an average molar mass of 28.8, while carbon monoxide has a molar mass of 28.0, making it barely lighter than air.

It is known as the "silent killer" because people do not realize they have been affected by it until symptoms appear, sometimes hours or even days after exposure.

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when carbon monoxide builds up in your bloodstream.

Anyone is at risk for CO poisoning when exposed to high enough concentrations.

When you breathe in carbon monoxide from the air, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide.

The tremendous danger with any amount of CO inhalation is that the hemoglobin in your blood is more than 200 times more attracted to carbon monoxide than oxygen. (1)

This means that your blood can quickly lose the ability to carry oxygen to the tissues in your body.  CO poisoning can make any existing medical condition worse. It is especially dangerous to the sick, elderly, and children.

Why Even Small Amounts of Carbon Monoxide Are Bad for You

Carbon Monoxide binds with your hemoglobin (the protein in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout the body) and becomes Carboxyhemoglobin (symbol COHb or HbCO). This is hemoglobin that has carbon monoxide bound to it instead of normal oxygen.

carboxyhemoglobinYour hemoglobin is what transports oxygen from your lungs to the rest of your body. It is what makes oxygenated blood-red in color. Once hemoglobin becomes carboxyhemoglobin after you inhale CO, it is unable to carry oxygen.

The higher the amount of carbon monoxide inhaled, the more carboxyhemoglobin in the blood. Not only does carboxyhemoglobin reduce oxygen availability to your tissues, but it also causes chemical asphyxia and hypoxia. (2) Instead of poisoning you as any other toxin would, carbon monoxide causes asphyxiation or oxygen deprivation to your organs.

Carbon monoxide also binds to other molecules in your body, such as NADPH reductase and cytochromes. Once bound to these molecules, carbon monoxide can disrupt normal physiologic processes, including mitochondrial dysfunction.

Carbon Monoxide can also affect your leukocytes, platelets, and endothelium and induce oxidative injury. (3)

Toxicity Levels of CO

The extent of bodily damage from carbon monoxide depends on the concentration of the inhaled poisonous gas.

Carbon Monoxide concentrations as low as 667 ppm may cause up to 50% of the body's hemoglobin to convert to carboxyhemoglobin. A level of 50% carboxyhemoglobin may result in seizure, coma, and fatality. (4)

The parts of the body most affected by CO poisoning are those most susceptible to hypoxia (when your tissues are starved of oxygen).

Your brain and eyes are most at risk upon exposure to this gas due to these structures' enormous oxygen demands.

How Carbon Monoxide Exposure From Motor Vehicle Emissions is Bad For You

In 2011, 52% of carbon monoxide emissions were created by motor vehicles in the U.S., according to an EPA report published and since removed from its site. (5)

Alarmingly, tailpipe concentrations of carbon monoxide in older gasoline engines that don't have catalytic converters are usually 30,000 to over 100,000 ppm, depending on the engine's condition. (6)

One study from 1973 (before catalytic converters) found that a 90-minute ride on a Los Angeles freeway produced EKG irregularities in 40% of patients with pre-existing cardiovascular disease. Expressway CO levels were only 25-100 ppm.

How Does Carbon Monoxide From Vehicles Affect the Air We Breathe?

Even though the EPA emission standards have reduced the amount of carbon monoxide produced by over 95%, a single-vehicle emitting high carbon monoxide concentrations can leave a cloud of harmful carbon monoxide. (7)

Why Are Car Exhaust Systems So Dangerous?

Internal combustion gasoline engines produce extremely high carbon monoxide concentrations.

Even a properly tuned gasoline engine produces more than 30,000 parts per million (ppm) of CO in the exhaust stream before the catalytic converter. Any leak from the exhaust can allow carbon monoxide to escape before it is converted to non-toxic CO2 in the catalytic converter. (7)

Carbon Monoxide leaks from a tailpipe or exhaust system can enter another vehicle behind it through holes in the auto body, the ventilation system, or open windows.

Now, if you happen to be walking by a car or truck leaking a high concentration of carbon monoxide, you will quickly inhale a high concentration of carbon monoxide within one or two breaths.

Remember that it only takes concentrations as low as 667 ppm to cause up to 50% of the body's hemoglobin to convert to carboxyhemoglobin. This means that much lower concentrations can cause damage to the body.

The good news is that the catalytic converter found on newer cars and trucks combines oxygen with carbon monoxide to form non-poisonous carbon dioxide (CO2), reducing it to low concentrations.

The bad news is that you will frequently encounter cars or trucks emitting dangerously high amounts of CO in their plumes even today.

Two Critical Questions

This leads us to two critical health questions:

1) What happens if you inhale, albeit briefly, a high concentration of carbon monoxide walking outside?

2) What happens when this extremely toxic gas gets in your eyes?

The short answer: it's not good.

Symptoms From Short-Term Exposure to Carbon Monoxide

The main manifestations of carbon monoxide poisoning develop in the organ systems most dependent on oxygen use, such as the brain, heart, eyes, and the central nervous system. (8)

Carbon monoxide can cause symptoms even in small amounts. Symptoms can occur instantly or have a delayed onset. (9)

CO poisoning symptoms are frequently mistaken for a virus, like the flu, food poisoning, or gastroenteritis. Headaches are the most common symptom of short-term carbon monoxide poisoning, but there are many others. They include:

  • Dull, Frontal Headache
  • Immediate Fatigue
  • Depression, Sudden Onset
  • Tinnitus
  • Brain Fog
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Arrhythmias
  • Memory Issues
  • Movement Problems
  • Tinnitus
  • Blurred vision

Less Common Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Less common symptoms of acute carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • myocardial ischemia
  • atrial fibrillation
  • pneumonia
  • pulmonary edema
  • high blood sugar
  • lactic acidosis
  • muscle necrosis
  • acute kidney failure
  • skin lesions
  • visual and auditory problems (9) (10) (11) (12)

Complications

Depending on the amount of exposure, carbon monoxide poisoning can have serious complications, including:

  • Brain damage, including strokes
  • Damage to your heart, including heart attacks
  • Fetal death or miscarriage
  • Death


Carbon monoxide exposure may lead to a significantly shorter life span due to heart damage. (13)

Carbon Monoxide Tolerance Levels

Several factors affect carbon monoxide tolerance level for any person, including:

  • Activity level rate of ventilation pre-existing cerebral issues
  • Pre-existing cardiovascular disease
  • Cardiac output
  • Anemia
  • Sickle cell disease and other hematological disorders,
  • Barometric pressure
  • Metabolic rate (14)

Delayed Neurological Complications from Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

One of the major concerns following carbon monoxide poisoning is the delayed neurological complications that can occur anywhere from 2 to 40 days after exposure to Carbon Monoxide.

Problems may include the following:

  • Short-term memory loss
  • Dementia
  • Amnesia
  • Psychosis
  • Irritability
  • Strange Gait
  • Speech Disturbances
  • Parkinson's Disease-like Syndromes
  • Cortical Blindness
  • Depression in those who did not have pre-existing depression (15)

Advanced age and initial neurological abnormalities may increase the chance of developing delayed symptoms. (16)

The time it will take to recover from carbon monoxide poisoning entirely depends on the amount of carbon monoxide gas inhaled.

The half-life of carbon monoxide without using oxygen is 320 minutes—more than five hours to reduce levels by half. This means that if you breathe fresh air, it will take five hours to get half the carbon monoxide out of your system. It will take another five hours to cut that level in half and so on.

Suppose there is just one instance of high ppm carbon monoxide gas inhalation from a passing car, for example. In that case, symptoms may resolve anywhere from a few hours to a week of inhalation as long as you are not subjected to further incidences of CO poisoning. (18)

High-level carbon monoxide poisoning is often treated with high-flow oxygen for as long as it takes to replace the carbon monoxide attached to hemoglobin with oxygen. Severe carbon monoxide poisoning requires time in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber.

Warning: Paint and Varnish Solvents Can Also Create Carbon Monoxide

Methylene chloride, a solvent commonly found in paint and varnish removers, can break down into carbon monoxide when inhaled. Exposure to methylene chloride can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.

Always use caution when working with paint solvents indoors—open windows. (19)

How Can I Protect Myself From Vehicular Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

  • Move out of the area of any idling car, truck, or boat if you start to feel light-headed or nauseous.
  • Wear protective eyewear.

What Can I Do to Clear My Body from CO Poisoning?

It takes very little carbon monoxide in the air you breathe to get CO poisoning. Unfortunately, it takes a lot of oxygen to get rid of it, which is the traditional CO poisoning treatment.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Chamber

For severe cases of CO poisoning, oxygen is administered in a hyperbaric chamber. This is a tube where the patient lies in and breathes 100% oxygen at high pressure. Using a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, you can reduce the elimination half-life of carbon monoxide to about 20 minutes. (20)

Hydrogen-Rich Saline Solutions

Another treatment that has been frequently studied in animals for acute CO poisoning is hydrogen-rich saline.  The saline is an antioxidant, non-toxic, convenient, and safe to use.  It is commonly used in Japan for metabolic disorders. (21)

Natural Remedies for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Because hyperbaric oxygen therapy is only available in severe carbon monoxide poisoning cases, it is an excellent idea to know your options for a suspected short-term but high concentration events outdoors.

Supplemental Oxygen Can

Shirley M. from Sedona made a fantastic suggestion to keep supplemental oxygen called Boost O2 in your home and car, as you will read in the feedback section below.

Read about Boost O2 on Amazon here.

 

Antioxidants

Take antioxidants to control the potential damage from carbon monoxide poisoning. Three of the most potent antioxidants are:

  • Astaxanthin
  • Vitamin E
  • Vitamin C

Home Remedies

Any supplement or natural remedy traditionally used for stroke and heart disease prevention might be helpful if carbon monoxide poisoning from short-term exposure is suspected.

These remedies include:

  • Cayenne Pepper
  • Nattokinase
  • Baby Aspirin
  • Hydrogen Peroxide Inhalation or Therapy

Take upon the first sign of CO poisoning.

How Fast Does Carbon Monoxide From Vehicles Dissipate in the Air Outside?

How quickly carbon monoxide dissipates outside depends on how much wind there is.

On a windless day, a blast of high ppm (parts per million) carbon monoxide from a tailpipe can hover in the area for more than just a few seconds.

Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can accumulate anywhere near an idling motor vehicle or boat.

Can I Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Through My Eyes?

Yes. The brain and eyes are most at risk upon exposure to this gas due to these structures' enormous oxygen demands. (22)

How Do I Protect My Eyes from the Effects of Carbon Monoxide Gas?

Simple. Wear protective eye gear such as sunglasses or glasses when you are outside.

When to Seek Medical Help

Call 911, move to a source of fresh air, and seek prompt medical help if you suspect severe CO poisoning, are feeling dizzy, light-headed, weak, or nauseated.


Summary

  • Today, most cars have a catalytic converter, which transforms carbon monoxide into harmless carbon dioxide before it comes out of the tailpipe. The problem is with older cars that do not have these converters or vehicles with their exhaust systems.
     
  • When there is any carbon monoxide in the air you're breathing, your body replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells with it.

  • It only takes carbon monoxide concentrations as low as 667 ppm to cause up to 50% of the body's hemoglobin to convert to carboxyhemoglobin. This means that much lower concentrations of CO can cause damage to the body.
     
  • Carbon Monoxide poisoning effects are cumulative.
     
  • Repeated carbon monoxide exposure of any level and concentration can lead to serious health issues and even death.
     
  • Besides your lungs, the eyes are also entry points for this toxic gas and should be protected with eye gear. This is especially true for the sick or elderly.
     
  • Keep elderly and sick people away from idling vehicles and boats.
     
  • Carbon Monoxide poisoning symptoms can appear immediately or have a delayed onset, making it difficult to diagnose as the cause.

Continue reading below for tips from Earth Clinic readers about remedies that might help you heal from CO poisoning. If you have one to add to the list, please do not hesitate to write us!

Related Links:

Heart Disease
Melatonin
Stroke


Boost O2

1 User Review
5 star (1) 
  100%


Posted by Shirley M. (Sedona) on 01/20/2021
5 out of 5 stars

This is a good reason for carrying a can of BOOST O2 in the car and have handy in the house until medical help arrives.

EC: Thank you so much, what a great idea. Added your idea to the supplements section in the CO article above.

Replied by Zal
(Israel)
01/20/2021

I guess Hydrogen water is also worth having?

Colloidal silver?


Cayenne

1 User Review
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Posted by Jill (Toronto) on 01/20/2021
5 out of 5 stars

1 teaspoon of cayenne powder in a small amount of juice or water for suspected CO poisoning. Don't forget to give it to your pets if you suspect they also got a nasty hit of carbon monoxide outside. I noticed one of my dogs sometimes gets agitated for no apparent reason after we come back from a long walk. Maybe that's the reason.


Methylene Blue

1 User Review
4 star (1) 
  100%


Posted by Lisa (HI) on 01/19/2021
4 out of 5 stars

I use methylene blue to combat carbon monoxide (CO) and other oxidation issues. I use a drop of the aquarium solution, can mix in water or take straight. Too much ( like 60 drops of the 2% solution can be toxic ) based on weight (150lb person).

It is also good for parkinsons, alheizmers, old age dementa. etc. They are all oxidative damage. People with genetic disorders take it daily for their entire life without bad effect.

I have been taking it for about 8 years now daily. There is a genetic disorder that can affect (mostly asian people) and they can get anemia if they take it (in large doses) but that is very rare in others. It also helps with covid and certain parasites. Used for 60 years to treat malaria.


Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

1 User Review
5 star (1) 
  100%


Posted by KT (Usa) on 11/19/2018
5 out of 5 stars

Dear EC, I wanted to post a warning to those who use wood stoves about the importance of using a Creosote Sweeping Log. I usually burn one about every couple of months and at the end of the season. Last year the weather got so nice so fast I failed to do that.

When we first started using the wood stove again I knew I needed to use the CSL early this year but I kept putting it off until I just forgot. Yesterday I started getting this headache and had a hard time keeping the fire going in the wood stove. It just never dawned on me about the chimney clogging and carbon monoxide until last night. Then I remembered I neglected the CSL.

I slept with my window cracked and and told my husband to do the same thing. This morning when I went downstairs the fire he had started was burning at a slow pace so I advised him to let it burn down to coals as I needed to burn the CSL and turned our thermostat back so it would stop circulating the toxic air. I cracked our kitchen window, which is on the second floor after I stood outside taking some deep breaths. It seems better in the house now but cold. We have some small heaters to use in each room.

We clean our stove every year and our chimney has a liner due to a previous chimney fire. Burning the CSL logs have worked fine every year since our fire. I just neglected to do that at the end of last season and wanted to give a "heads-up" about it.

KT

Replied by Robert Henry
(Ten Mile, Tn)
11/23/2018

KT,,,,,,, girl, you just sent me to school. I was not aware of a CSL log until your post. I am aware of creosote and how it can burn down your home. An ole timer said to burn potato peeling in your heater and that will keep it clean. Did not work for us, so we have it cleaned ever other year.

Normally, we just bang on the flue and the stuff falls and we clean that up. Over the years we always had a fireplace. The are only fit to look at. No heat like a heater. Our heater stands on a stone hearth that goes to the ceiling in the back. The heater has a glass front and a fan. The fire has to be small, least it run all out of the house. We get to see and feel the fire.

In the fall we go to the corn fields and pick up the left over corn cobs.... about a bushel. We keep a small pail of them soaking in diesel. When we want to build a fire we use one with a handful of kindling along with some very small logs and have an instant fire.

Waste not, want not. We take the dead ashes and spread them along the base of out house. Thus, we never have a need for an exterminator, no insects ..... Did I ever tell you that I was an eagle scout about 66 years ago.

Kt, if folks read the EC posts, their lives well so much better. Got some smart people here. Thank you for sending me to school.

====ORH====

Replied by KT
(Usa)
11/26/2018

Dear ORH,

Small fires create a swirling effect and that's what can coat & clog the chimney. We were advised to initially burn our stove hot in the morning to burn out any coating. I just scanned, looking for your post about breathing...maybe your chimney is closing up and the shallow breathing could be a danger to you and your tractor driver.

I don't think using diesel soaked corn cobs is safe. I get "Starter Logg" and we also use "Strike-A-Fire". Even though cardboard is not the best, I save our toilet paper and paper towel rolls all year and use with newspapers and twigs/kindling from our yard to start fires.

I think it would be a good idea to get a couple CSL's and use one now to make sure you are not reducing your own oxygen supply in the house.

KT

Replied by Robert Henry
(Ten Mile, Tn)
11/27/2018

KT, think you are right about the small fires, but our family room is 22' high and the flue is close to that. Even a small fire will run us out of the house.

What I've learned is that safety is knowing how to handle something. I've handled lot of hazardous materials in my life and a soaked corn cob is not a problem. We used that trick most of our lives. I thank you for your concern however.

I am going to get some of those logs.

====ORH====


Strokes and Heart Attacks

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Posted by John (AU) on 01/20/2021
5 out of 5 stars

I know a few people who had heart attacks or strokes outside or within an hour of coming inside from a walk or run. Some elderly, some under the age of 50. One in particular worked on trailers and multiple heart attacks on the same day was young and in good health. He survived but had extensive heart damage after that and was never the same.

Replied by Mary
(USA)
01/24/2021

What about all of the thousands and thousands of people waiting in their cars to either get tested or get the covid 19 vaccine. Maybe this is why so many are being tested positive or once in the hospital are testing for all of the above???