Exposure to Carbon Monoxide and Smoking

Carbon monoxide (CO)  is an odorless, tasteless, colorless, and poisonous gas, and is easily absorbed through the lungs.  Walking on a sidewalk can expose you to CO from passing cars and trucks.  Carbon monoxide exposure in your house due to improperly vented or malfunctioning gas, oil, coal or wood burning appliances such as water heaters, furnaces, kerosene space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills, gas powered generators or stoves can be deadly.  So is running your car in an enclosed space.   Yet every time you light up a cigarette, cigar or pipe, you are being exposed to carbon monoxide which is harming your body.

Carbon Monoxide Exposure from CigarettesIn normal breathing, oxygen attaches itself to the hemoglobin molecules in the red blood cells, which is then carried from the lungs to all the other tissues in the body.  In healthy, nonsmoking adults, the blood that leaves the lungs is saturated with oxygen, and the CO level is between 0 and 8 parts per million (ppm).   But in a smoker, the carbon monoxide from the burning cigarette binds to the hemoglobin and takes the place of oxygen.   This can raise the CO levels between 7 and 15 percent for a smoker who goes through a pack in an 8-hour period.  That also means less oxygen is delivered to your cells, lungs and heart.

The short term effects of being exposed to CO can cause an increased heart rate and shortness of breath.  The longer you are exposed to CO, the greater the risks for heart disease as fat builds up on the artery walls.  This causes artery blockages which can lead to heart attacks.

Smokers of all ages experience carbon monoxide harm.  Young athletes who smoke tire more quickly than nonsmoking peers because oxygen-rich blood isn’t supplied to muscles during physical activity.   Reduced oxygen levels to the muscles also causes more injuries and a longer time to heal.   Decreased lung function in older smokers combined with higher carbon monoxide levels in the blood, make physical activity difficult, including breathing.

Carbon monoxide detectors can be purchased to monitor CO levels in a building or house.  Unfortunately, the human body doesn’t come with a CO monitor.  Every cigarette is doing your body harm.

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