Hyperbaric chamber could save lives of carbon monoxide victims

Carbon monoxide deaths increase during winter

SAN ANTONIO – Detecting carbon monoxide can be as easy as installing a carbon monoxide detector. Experts agree it is the best way to stay safe. 

Still, every winter, due to faulty heaters and furnaces, the silent killer claims its victims.

"In the U.S., there are thousands of cases reported each year where people are treated for carbon monoxide poisoning and several hundred deaths, unfortunately," said Jim Sheffield, who is the clinic director at Nix Health.

Deaths occur because of what is known about the gas.

"It's odorless, colorless, and you're not going to know there's a problem until you start feeling the symptoms," said Sheffield.

The symptoms are typically headache and nausea that often warrant an emergency room visit. But in severe cases, someone with carbon monoxide poisoning can end up in a unique chamber.

A hyperbaric chamber, like the one at Nix Hospital in downtown San Antonio, has been used for decades to treat carbon monoxide poisoning.

"It's one of the absolute indications for hyperbaric treatment as an emergency," said Dr. Robert Dunn, a doctor at Nix Health. "The sooner you get in the chamber, the better off you will be."

Inside the bomb shelter-like contraption, a change in pressure helps force oxygen back into the bloodstream.

"The way to treat carbon monoxide poisoning is with 100 percent oxygen," said Sheffield.

The oxygen is administered to the patients while the pressure is altered inside the chamber. 

It is a proven process that can save lives -- even those who are unconscious. The chamber can also house entire families who have been poisoned.

The hyperbaric chamber is more commonly used to help heal wounds from diseases like diabetes, but remains on standby for saving lives of those poisoned by carbon monoxide.

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