Lifewatch: Carbon monoxide poisoning

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - A Utah researcher has documented a subtle, but dangerous, poison that can slowly damage the brain over a period of months and the victim doesn't even know it's happening.

Cynthia Smith had a promising career and even an executive job offer with a big corporation, but she was forced to retire when she couldn't focus on her work anymore or perform simple tasks like email.

Cynthia had carbon monoxide poisoning.

Cynthia was poisoned slowly over 2.5 years, not knowing that levels of carbon monoxide were leaking from a wall space heater in her San Francisco condo.

Headaches would come and go, and she felt tired now and then.

"You tend to blame those on other types of things such as stress or just general job related fatigue," said Cynthia.

Cynthia's poisoning may be more far reaching than what happens to people in one-time exposures.

Dr. Lindell Weaver's research shows the body's inflammatory response may produce more damage to the brain than lack of oxygen - and during less dramatic, but lingering exposures.

"The poisoning has hurt them," said Weaver.  "The inflammatory contribution plays itself out after the poisoning stops for sometimes weeks, we believe, maybe even months."

Some damage from the poisoning may be permanent.

"My recovery takes place on a daily basis," said Cynthia.  "Every day I work on trying to get better."

Weaver said a new generation of CO detectors have digital readouts that show accumulation CO numbers before they become dramatic enough to set off an alarm.