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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Close up shot of a carbon monoxide alarm

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning each year.  It is also reported that each year more than 20,000 Americans visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 Americans are hospitalized due to CO poisoning. 

Where does CO come from? 

CO is found in combustion fumes such as those produced by cars, gas ranges and ovens, gas dryers, generators, gas or kerosene space heaters, fireplaces and wood stoves. If CO builds up in an enclosed space like a room, a home, or a garage people and animals can get poisoned by the gas.

How do you get CO poisoning?

Red blood cells pick up CO faster than they pick up Oxygen. This means if there is a high concentration of CO in the air your body may place CO into your blood instead of oxygen.  If you body is deprived of too much oxygen it can result in dizziness, nausea, confusion, tissue damage and even death.  

What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?

According to CDC, the most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death. 

Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

How can carbon monoxide exposure be prevented?

There are many preventive measures you can take to prevent CO poisoning in your home.  Here is a list of Dos and Don’ts:

  • Do have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil, or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

  • Do install a battery-operated CO detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. If the detector sounds leave your home immediately and call 911.

  • Do seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.

  • Don't use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window.

  • Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.

  • Don't burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn't vented.

  • Don't heat your house with a gas oven.