What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning? Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that’s both odorless and colorless. It’s found in combustion (exhaust) fumes produced by:
- car mufflers
- space heaters
- charcoal grills
- car engines
- portable generators
Everyone is exposed to small amounts of carbon monoxide throughout the day. However, inhaling too much of it can cause CO poisoning.
CO can increase to dangerous levels when combustion fumes become trapped in a poorly ventilated or enclosed space (such as a garage). Inhaling these fumes causes CO to build up in your bloodstream, which can lead to severe tissue damage.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning aren’t always obvious, particularly during low-level exposure.
A tension-type headache is the most common symptom of mild carbon monoxide poisoning. Other symptoms include:
- nausea (feeling sick) and vomiting
- tiredness and confusion
- stomach pain
- shortness of breath and difficulty breathing
The symptoms of exposure to low levels of carbon monoxide can be similar to those of food poisoning and flu. But unlike flu, carbon monoxide poisoning doesn’t cause a high temperature (fever).
The symptoms can gradually get worse with prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide, leading to a delay in diagnosis.
Carbon monoxide is a danger to everyone, but certain groups are more vulnerable than others. These include:
- babies and young children
- pregnant women
- people with chronic heart disease
- people with respiratory problems, such as asthma
- Pets are often the first to show signs of carbon monoxide poisoning. The smaller an animal or a person is, the faster they’ll be affected.
Investigate the possibility of a carbon monoxide leak if your pet suddenly becomes ill or dies unexpectedly, and their death isn’t related to old age or an existing health condition.
CO Poisoning Prevention Tips
Install carbon monoxide detectors. Put one in the hallway near each sleeping area in your house. Check the batteries every time you check your smoke detector batteries — at least twice a year. If the alarm sounds, leave the house and call 911 or the fire department. Carbon monoxide detectors are also available for motor homes and boats.
Open the garage door before starting your car. Never leave your car running in your garage. Be particularly cautious if you have an attached garage. Leaving your car running in a space attached to the rest of your house is never safe, even with the garage door open.
Use gas appliances as recommended. Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your home. Use portable gas camp stoves outdoors only. Use fuel-burning space heaters only when someone is awake to monitor them and doors or windows are open to provide fresh air. Don’t run a generator in an enclosed space, such as the basement or garage.
Keep your fuel-burning appliances and engines properly vented. These include:
- Space heaters
- Charcoal grills
- Cooking ranges
- Water heaters
- Portable generators
- Wood-burning stoves
- Car and truck engines
Ask your utility company about yearly checkups for all gas appliances, including your furnace.
If you have a fireplace, keep it in good repair. Clean your fireplace chimney and flue every year.
Keep vents and chimneys unblocked during remodeling. Check that they aren’t covered by tarps or debris.
Make repairs before returning to the site of an incident. If carbon monoxide poisoning has occurred in your home, it’s critical to find and repair the source of the carbon monoxide before you stay there again. Your local fire department or utility company may be able to help.
Use caution when working with solvents in a closed area. Methylene chloride, a solvent commonly found in paint and varnish removers, can break down (metabolize) into carbon monoxide when inhaled. Exposure to methylene chloride can cause carbon monoxide poisoning.
CO poisoning is entirely preventable. You can protect yourself and your family by acting wisely in case of a power outage and learning the symptoms of CO poisoning.
Can HVAC Systems Leak Carbon Monoxide?
Although home heating systems produce only a small amount of carbon monoxide, it’s important to keep your furnace and vents properly maintained by a qualified service technician to prevent any potential leaks. He or she will perform a thorough inspection of your heating system and ensure all vents are clean and unobstructed. By scheduling preventative maintenance each fall, you’ll also help avoid any emergency repairs later in the winter.
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Don’t forget that other chemical vapors could be lurking in your home’s air, as well. Potential sources include household cleaning products, vehicle exhaust fumes from an attached garage, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from new furniture and carpet. The Air Purification System can help eliminate these chemical vapors from.