Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas. Often called the “silent killer,” if inhaled, especially in large quantities, carbon monoxide can cause serious illness and even death.
According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), between 2010 and 2015 more carbon monoxide poisoning caused more than 2200 deaths in the United States. The largest percentage of these tragic deaths occurred during the cold winter months of December, January, and February.
Common Carbon Monoxide Sources
Carbon monoxide is natural byproduct of any burning material. If you use fuel-burning appliances or have an attached garage, your home is more susceptible to increase levels of CO. Common sources of carbon monoxide in your home include:
Wood stoves and fireplaces
- Water heaters
- Gas stoves and ovens
- Tobacco smoke
- Space heaters
- Power tools
- Lawn equipment
Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning resemble flu symptoms. Prolonged exposure can cause the initial symptoms to worsen, leading to confusion, loss of consciousness, and even death.
- Common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
People who are sleeping or intoxicated are often at a higher risk of suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning because they may be unaware of developing symptoms. Irreversible brain damage and death can easily occur before rising CO levels are discovered.
Seek Medical Help
The initial symptoms of CO poisoning can be subtle and often easy to miss. Since carbon monoxide poisoning is a potentially life-threatening situation, if you suspect you are someone else may be at risk, get fresh air immediately and contact emergency medical personnel.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Fortunately, death from carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented. A few simple steps like regular inspections of heating equipment and chimneys, as well as using a carbon monoxide detector will help lower the risks of CO exposure for you and your family.
Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors.
Carbon monoxide detectors are required by law in many states. However, even if they are not mandatory in your state, having them installed could save your life. Place one within 10 feet of rooms used for sleeping. Special CO detectors are also available for boats and motor homes.
Be sure to check the batteries in CO detectors regularly. Most manufacturers recommend replacing batteries twice each year to ensure your detectors are always working properly.
If the alarm on your CO detector goes off, leave the house immediately and call your local fire department. Put one in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house.
Never Start Your Car with the Garage Door Closed
It is dangerous to leave your vehicle running in a closed garage. CO is a natural byproduct of burning gasoline and is emitted through your car’s exhaust system. CO levels can rise rapidly in an unventilated area like a closed garage. Always open the garage door before starting your car.
Follow Safety Guidelines When Using Fuel-Powered Appliances
To ensure your family’s safety, always follow the manufacturer’s guidelines when using any fuel-powered appliances. Keep all fuel-burning appliances well vented for safety.
Some other safety precautions to follow include:
- Never use a stove or oven to heat your living spaces.
- Always use portable gas camp stoves outside.
- Never use fuel-burning space heaters when sleeping.
- Never use a generator in an enclosed space like a basement or garage.
Schedule Regular Maintenance for Your Heating System
Whether you use a fireplace, woodstove, or modern HVAC system to heat your home, regular maintenance is important for efficiency and safety.
If you use a fireplace or stove to heat your home, be sure to clean your fireplace chimney and flue before the first use of the season.
Your local HVAC professional can provide annual inspections of your HVAC system. Regularly scheduled inspection and maintenance are essential for proper and safe function. Also, a qualified technician can answer any questions you may have about the safety of your heating system or appliances.