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Inhalation of high levels of carbon dioxide leads to a life threatening condition, known as hypercapnia or hypercarbia. Hypercapnia results in elevated levels of carbon dioxide in blood, which is followed by symptoms like shortness of breath, confusion and muscle twitches. Carbon dioxide poisoning can eventually cause death unless a victim is removed from the source of carbon dioxide and supplied with oxygen.

Causes of Carbon Dioxide Poisoning

Carbon dioxide is constantly produced by the body cells. It is a waste product of respiration and is released from the body by exhalation. If the body becomes unable to expel carbon dioxide or if levels of this gas in the air are too high, carbon dioxide poisoning takes place. The condition can be caused by re-breathing exhaled carbon dioxide, which can take place if one is sleeping in air tight tents or with head covered in blankets. Hypercapnia can also occur due to exposure to environment containing abnormally high levels of carbon dioxide, such as volcanic area. Poorly ventilated, closed places like mine shafts and underground tunnels have high concentrations of carbon dioxide, hence people working in such places are susceptible to carbon dioxide poisoning. Scuba divers are also at risk because of the potential malfunctioning of scuba breathing apparatus. Furthermore, hypercapnia can be caused by lung diseases like emphysema, hyperventilation and neuromuscular disorders.

Symptoms of Carbon Dioxide PoisoningInitially, carbon dioxide poisoning causes flushed skin, muscle twitches, elevated blood pressure, rapid breathing, shortness of breath and reduced neural activity. Severe hypercapnia causes headache, lethargy, increased cardiac output, irregular heart beat, panic, disorientation, convulsions, loss of consciousness and finally death.

Treatment for Carbon Dioxide PoisoningPeople who are working at places with high concentrations of carbon dioxide, as well as those who are susceptible to hypercapnia due to certain medical conditions, must be aware of the potential poisoning and its symptoms. This can help in prevention of hypercapnia. If the poisoning takes place, you must also know how to react. A victim of hypercapnia should be taken out on fresh air. If hypercapnia was mild, the symptoms will resolve and the victim will recover. On the other hand, in case of severe carbon dioxide poisoning a victim must be taken to emergency room. It is vital to make sure the victim’s air duct is not obstructed. If continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) is available, place the mask on the victim’s mouth in order to restore normal breathing. The victim must also receive medications that help to improve functions of the lungs. It is important that the victim receives sufficient supply of oxygen. This is normally taken care of in hospitals, but you can use portable oxygen tents or canisters of breathable oxygen for the purpose.

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