HMC reports surge in suffocation cases

January 10, 2014 - 5:14:02 am

DOHA: The Emergency Department at the Hamad Medical Corporation (HMC) has reported an increase in suffocation cases after the cold wave hit the country this month, due to burning charcoal indoors for heating .

A HMC expert has warned against burning charcoal or wood indoors for heating, or in an enclosed space, as it increases the possibility of suffocation, poisoning and cause other severe complications that may lead to death.

Dr Jalal Saleh Al Essai, Emergency Medicine and Trauma Specialist at HMC, said that when charcoal is burned indoors for heating it gives off a poisonous gas called carbon monoxide, which builds up in the air.

When breathed in, carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in the hemoglobin circulating in the bloodstream, eventually causing a drop in oxygen levels and suffocation.

Poisoning symptoms may start appearing within 5 to 20 minutes of igniting the coal or the wood. However, the symptoms may appear after hours, days or even months from exposure to carbon monoxide.

Mild carbon monoxide poisoning feels like the flu, and its symptoms may take the form of headache, dizziness and nausea. On the other hand, more serious poisoning cases may cause muscle cramps and fainting due to the poor delivery of blood to the heart and the brain.

“These symptoms could be particularly dangerous when experienced by children, pregnant women and people with chronic heart diseases, respiratory problems or anemia,” said Jalal.

He advised that as soon as symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are detected, windows must be immediately opened to improve the ventilation, and the fire must be extinguished. It is also recommended to call for an ambulance and immediately go out in an open area to inhale fresh air.

“In the Emergency Department, the first thing we do to treat these cases is to give the patient pure oxygen to breathe and then measure the percentage of carbon monoxide in blood from time to time. We also keep the patient under clinical observation in the emergency department for 24 to 48 hours,”

“ As for the more severe cases that come to the emergency department after suffering high exposure to carbon monoxide, we take the patients to a special oxygen chamber where they can breathe 100 percent pure oxygen under high atmospheric pressure equivalent to about ten times the normal pressure,” Dr Jalal Added.

He recommended to replace the coal-fired heating systems with electric heaters.

The Peninsula