Treatments and Therapeutics

Surviving CO Poisoning

Surviving carbon monoxide poisoning can have a range of consequences, and the severity of these consequences can vary depending on the extent and duration of exposure to carbon monoxide.

Individual factors such as age and overall health can also affect the severity of the consequences.


At present, a great deal is known about symptomology from medical papers written from the point of view of the author of the paper, rather than the person enduring those symptoms.

Effective treatment, support and management has to be developed through incorporating the point of view of the sufferer, to take a holistic approach to complex conditions such as carbon monoxide poisoning.

However, the literature does not yet give us any idea about what it is like to live with the immediate and longer-term aftermath of being poisoned by carbon monoxide, from the survivor's perspective.

In 2017 the CO Research Trust funded a project carried out by Dr Julie Connelly of Liverpool John Moores' University.

The project was titled "Surviving CO Poisoning - An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis", and it aimed to fill a gap in the academic literature that informs healthcare practice.

The research found a feeling of 'lack of voice' among those exposed to carbon monoxide, which often led to feelings of isolation.

The study participants also continue to face many challenges due to their exposure. As well as substantial sequelae from the exposure itself, they also face issues due to the lack of knowledge about carbon monoxide.

Read more about this study here.

Effects of CO Poisoning

Below are some of the potential after-effects and long-term health implications of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Immediate Symptoms

Survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning may experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, confusion, and shortness of breath.

These symptoms often improve once the person is removed from the source of carbon monoxide exposure and receives medical treatment. This typically involves administering 100% oxygen to help the body eliminate the carbon monoxide.

Neurological Effects

Carbon monoxide exposure induces alterations in brain function. Around 67% of survivors of acute carbon monoxide poisoning incidents develop neurological problems, including problems with cognition and movement.

This is induced by an effect of carbon monoxide on the brain cells that leads to a loss of neurons and glia in different brain areas.

Survivors may experience memory problems, difficulty concentrating, mood changes, and impaired coordination. These effects can persist for weeks or months and, in some cases, may become permanent.

The CO Research Trust has funded several projects to understand the neurological implications of carbon monoxide exposure.

Read more about these projects here.

Cardiovascular Effects

High levels of carbon monoxide in the blood can lead to heart-related complications. Survivors may be at an increased risk of heart problems, including arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and myocardial infarction (heart attacks).

The team at Sheffield Hallam University undertook a project in 2020 to gather data on how low-level, chronic carbon monoxide exposure can cause cardiac abnormalities in the chick embryo.

A thickening of the heart ventricular walls and reduced heart weight at very low carbon monoxide levels has been seen (8ppm and 1ppm, respectively).

The project was carried out to improve understanding of how carbon monoxide air pollution links to congenital defects in humans, which has been seen in some epidemiological studies, and to explore the feasibility of a CO exposure chamber.

Read more about this project here.

Respiratory Issues

Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to respiratory problems. Survivors may experience chronic cough, shortness of breath, and an increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Long-Term Neurological and Psychiatric Symptoms

Some individuals who have survived severe carbon monoxide poisoning may experience long-lasting cognitive impairments, such as memory loss and difficulty with complex tasks.

Additionally, there may be an increased risk of developing psychiatric conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

A project undertaken by PhD student Beth Cheshire at Lancaster University gathered data on low levels of carbon monoxide present in the homes of older adults and screened their cognitive function and mental health.

The goal of this research was to assist in the understanding of whether low-level and long-term carbon monoxide exposure can be a risk factor in neurological disorders such as dementia.

Read more about this project here.

Watch Beth Cheshire present the findings of this project below.

Reduced Quality of Life

Survivors of carbon monoxide poisoning may face challenges in their daily lives due to the physical and cognitive impairments they experience. This can affect their overall quality of life and ability to perform tasks and work.

The latest research on carbon monoxide poisoning continues to explore the long-term consequences of exposure and ways to mitigate these effects.

Researchers are studying the mechanisms through which carbon monoxide damages cells and tissues, as well as potential treatments to reduce the severity of long-term symptoms.

Preventative measures, such as the use of carbon monoxide detectors in homes and workplaces, remain crucial in reducing the incidence of carbon monoxide poisoning.

It's important for individuals who have survived carbon monoxide poisoning to follow up with medical professionals for ongoing monitoring and care. The severity and duration of symptoms can vary widely among individuals, so treatment and recovery plans should be tailored to each person's specific needs.

Early intervention and proper medical treatment are essential for improving the prognosis of carbon monoxide poisoning-survivors.

Dr Julie Connolly from Liverpool John Moores University, continues to focus her work in this area.

Watch below as she presents an update on her latest work.