Carbon monoxide toxicity after lighting coals at a hookah bar

J Med Toxicol. 2014 Sep;10(3):295-8. doi: 10.1007/s13181-013-0368-x.


Introduction: Unintentional non-fire-related (UNFR) carbon monoxide (CO) poisonings continue to account for a significant health and economic burden in the United States. While most of these poisonings are related to faulty central heating or water heaters in private dwellings, less common sources should also be considered when a patient presents with any signs or symptoms suggestive of CO toxicity.

Case report: The authors present a case where a patient was found to have severe CO poisoning, a COHgb level of 33.8 %, after lighting coals for a water pipe called a hookah. The patient was initially unconscious and was found to have electrocardiogram (ECG) changes consistent with cardiac ischemia that resolved following treatment with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Discussion: In recent years, hookah bars have gained in popularity, especially in urban areas and around college campuses. This was the first case to identify the potential occupational exposure of employees working at hookah bars to CO. Furthermore, the patient's COHb level of 33.8 % was higher than any previously reported in the literature with exposure via hookah pipe. The practitioner should consider CO poisoning in patients who smoke tobacco via a hookah and consider early hyperbaric oxygen therapy in those experiencing significant symptoms.

Publication types

  • Case Reports

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbon Monoxide / toxicity*
  • Carboxyhemoglobin / analysis
  • Coal*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Hyperbaric Oxygenation
  • Male


  • Coal
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Carboxyhemoglobin