You may have heard of Carbon Monoxide - a deadly gas that is virtually undetectable. It sounds like something straight out of a comic book but unfortunately, it’s very real. And if inhaled for extended periods of time, it can result in Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
The effects of Carbon Monoxide poisoning are serious and according to the CDC, result in hundreds of death each year. Fortunately, Carbon Monoxide poisoning can easily be prevented.
It may seem like a large feat to protect yourself from inhaling a substance you can’t see or smell, but it’s quite simple. All it takes is some education to learn what to look out for and how to reduce Carbon Monoxide risks.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, tasteless and colorless gas that occurs during an incomplete combustion. Usually produced by the fumes of burning gas, wood, propane, charcoal and other fuel, it is commonly caused by poorly ventilated appliances in enclosed or tightly sealed spaces. Some appliances known for emitting CO fumes are:
When too much CO is in the air, it builds up in your blood stream each time you inhale. As it is absorbed, it replaces the oxygen in your red blood cells, resulting in Carbon Monoxide poisoning. Eventually, once enough oxygen has been depleted, you become unconscious.
Because CO is free from odor, color or taste, it is possible to inhale it for long periods of time without noticing. Most people who suffer from CO poisoning are unaware that they were even exposed to it until their symptoms have started.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Once exposed to CO fumes, the symptoms start to set in slowly. As oxygen is replaced by CO, you will start to experience “flu-like” symptoms. This includes headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion.
CO is a fast moving gas that can cover large areas quickly, which can affect everyone in a shared living space - sometimes entire families. If you notice that your family is experiencing symptoms while in the home, particularly when a gas appliance is in use, it’s possible that CO poisoning has spread throughout the house.
Prolonged exposure eventually leads to unconsciousness or death. In some cases, if a person is sleeping or drunk, they could die from CO poisoning without showing any symptoms.
High concentrations of CO can be deadly after just five minutes of exposure. For lower concentrations of CO, it can take up to 8 hours for the symptoms to set in. However, these times can vary, depending on the person’s age, gender, weight and activity level at the time of exposure.
Surviving CO poisoning can also come with it’s own set of concerns. If you’ve had continued exposure to CO over a period of time, then you may suffer long term or permanent symptoms, such as:
For some people, it could take years to recover from CO poisoning - others may never recover at all.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention
CO poisoning is scary, but can be easily prevented. Just being aware of what causes CO poisoning can help you to evaluate situations where it may be a risk. Carefully inspecting sources that burn gas, fuel, wood, charcoal or other chemicals for heat is a step in the right the direction, but here are more ways to prevent CO poisoning:
Install a CO Detector: When installing a CO detector, make sure to place near somewhere that is high risk for CO emissions, but also close enough to wake you if the alarm goes off. Change the batteries twice per year to ensure it is always working. A good rule of thumb is to switch out batteries when updating your clocks for daylight savings time in the spring and fall.
Regular Appliance Maintenance: Carefully monitoring appliances that put out emissions is a safe way to detect possible CO issues before they occur. Once per year, have a qualified technician inspect any appliance that uses gas, coal or fuel. If you ever smell an odor from your gas refrigerator, request an inspection right away.
Quality Control: When purchasing gas equipment, ensure that it’s carrying the seal of a certified testing agency. Before using an appliance or vehicle that burns gas, fuel, wood or propane, check that you have plenty of ventilation in the area.
Avoid Sleeping Near Emissions: Do not fall asleep in an idle car that’s parked in an enclosed space, like a garage. Avoid sleeping near a propane tank or kerosene heater.
If you find that you were exposed to CO, seek help right away, even if you aren’t showing symptoms. Dial 911 and request an ambulance - you don’t want to risk passing out while driving. Once you are at the hospital, your doctor should treat you immediately.
Now that you are more familiar with Carbon Monoxide poisoning, you can take the necessary steps to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proceed with caution when dealing with combustion fumes, be aware of the CO poisoning symptoms and take actionable steps to prevent CO exposure.