How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen any time of year, but it is during the cooler months when home heating systems are running that the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning increases. In fact, roughly 65% of carbon monoxide poisoning deaths from consumer products are due to heating systems. And while infants, the elderly and people with breathing problems, chronic heart disease or anemia are more prone to illness or death from CO poisoning, anyone can be at risk. That is why it is so important to have functioning carbon monoxide detectors on each level of your home and near sleeping areas. In addition to using carbon monoxide detectors in your home, having a better understanding of the risks of carbon monoxide poisoning, including its sources and health risks, can go a long way in preventing many of the deaths and hospitalizations that occur in the United States as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Where Does Carbon Monoxide Come From?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced any time a fuel is burned. The gas is found in fumes produced by furnaces, stoves, lanterns, gas ranges, kerosene heaters, portable generators, vehicles that are left idling in garages or by burning wood or charcoal. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces and people and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing in carbon monoxide. Known as a “silent killer” or “invisible killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, odorless and non-irritating gas that often goes undetected, striking victims when they are caught off guard or while they are sleeping.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

When carbon monoxide is breathed in, the gas passes through the lungs and bonds with hemoglobin in the bloodstream, displacing the oxygen the body’s cells need in order to function. The early symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to the flu and are often misdiagnosed, which is why it is important to be aware of these symptoms so you can catch carbon monoxide poisoning early on and reduce the risk of long-term side effects or death. Exposure to any level of carbon monoxide can be bad for your health but exposure to CO at high concentration levels can be fatal in mere minutes. The following are some of the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain
  • Loss of consciousness

People who are exposed to carbon monoxide while they are sleeping or after they have been drinking can die from CO poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms.

Tips for Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

CO poisoning is entirely preventable. It is important to learn the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent it, so you can protect yourself and your family from the effects of CO poisoning. The following are some simple steps you can take to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in your household, according to the CDC:

  • Install a battery-powered or battery back-up carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near each separate sleeping area of your home and replace the detector every five years. Check or replace the batteries every six months, when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.
  • Never use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
  • Keep vents and flues free of debris, which can block ventilation lines and increase the risk of CO poisoning.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, lantern or portable camping stove inside a home, camper or tent.
  • Have your heating system, water heater and any other oil-, gas- or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in a garage or another enclosed or partially enclosed space.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer or gasoline-powered engine inside a garage, basement or other enclosed space, even if the windows or doors are open.
  • Never ignore a carbon monoxide alarm.
  • If you suspect CO poisoning, go outside and get fresh air immediately. Call 911, emergency services or the fire department as soon as possible. Do not try to find the source of the gas.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning a Leading Cause of Accidental Death

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in the United States. Every year, more than 400 people die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 50,000 people visit the emergency department and more than 4,000 people are hospitalized due to carbon monoxide poisoning. For more information about preventing carbon monoxide poisoning and tips on safeguarding your home and family from the gas known as the silent killer, visit the CDC’s website.