There is new experimental evidence that a radical new type of therapy may be helpful for patients with carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Acute carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the most common deaths worldwide. In the United States carbon monoxide exposure causes about 50,000 emergency room visits annually. Carbon monoxide poisoning causes about 400 deaths per year in the US, and even when carbon monoxide exposure is non-lethal it can cause memory, attention, and affective disorders. Carbon monoxide attaches to molecules in our bodies that contain iron. The most common one we think of with CO poisoning is the hemoglobin found in red blood cells.
Hemoglobin is the molecule in red blood cells that carries the oxygen we need to survive. Hemoglobin contains iron and when this iron is coupled with carbon monoxide, the red blood cells cannot accept oxygen. Another important iron-containing compound in the body is the proteins in muscle cells, especially the ones in the heart. Severe carbon monoxide exposure can cause heart damage, essentially like a heart attack. Removing carbon monoxide from the body can be tricky. Giving the patient high concentrations of oxygen in a hyperbaric chamber can be helpful but cumbersome. Recently, a new revolutionary technique using light to dislodge carbon monoxide from hemoglobins has been tried. Light can dislodge CO and a light source placed in the food tube seems to do the trick. Now the bad news (sorry to lead you on), this study was done in mice.