Carbon monoxide (also known as CO) is an odorless and colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death within an entire home. Often, the gas can build up in a home and affect victims while they are asleep or off guard. Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning not linked to fires, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
What are the common symptoms of CO poisoning?
- Chest pain
- Some symptoms can appear flu-like
If you breathe in a lot of CO, it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.
Where is CO found?
CO is found in fumes produced any time you burn fuel in cars or trucks, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces. CO can build up indoors and poison people and animals who breathe it.
Who can be affected?
Anyone can be at risk (even pets). Exposure to carbon monoxide can result in permanent neurological damage or death. The CDC says infants, the elderly, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or breathing problems are more prone to illness or death, but carbon monoxide doesn’t discriminate – especially if certain conditions are present.
What can I do to prevent CO poisoning?
- Know the symptoms and causes of CO poisoning.
- Purchase a carbon monoxide detector and follow the instructions to install and use it properly. Test the alarm and change the batteries twice per year. Some manufacturers have even recommended testing the alarms every week, so it’s important to check the manual as well. Make sure the detector is in a place where it will wake you up, like your bedroom. Replace the detector every five years.
- Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house even with the garage door open. Always open the door to a detached garage to let in fresh air when you run a car or truck inside.
- Always turn off gas-powered generators and heaters before leaving the house or going to bed.
- Never use a gas range or oven to heat your home.
- Make sure all heaters and gas appliances are vented properly.
- Do not use outdoor appliances, generators, or heaters in your home, basement, or garage, or within 20 feet of a window, door, or vent.
- Have your chimney, heating system, water heater, and all other gas or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician each year.
- Never burn charcoal indoors.
What do I do if a CO alarm goes off inside my home?
- DO NOT ignore a carbon monoxide alarm.
- Turn off the appliance causing the gas build-up. If you don’t know the source of the gas, do not spend time trying to find it.
- Immediately move yourself, your family, and your pets outside of the home to get fresh air. As you exit the house, quickly open windows and doors to ventilate the house.
- If anyone feels any of the symptoms listed above, call 9-1-1! If you go to an emergency room, tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning.
- Do not re-enter the house until an emergency responder gives you permission.
- Call your gas company, oil company, or local health authority to help identify and remove sources of carbon monoxide contamination.
Where can I get more information?
Visit the CDC’s Carbon Monoxide Poisoning page for more information.
Information provided by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Image provided by Santeri Viinamäki.