Both naturally occurring and a by-product of man-made combustion, carbon monoxide (CO), a clear and odorless gas, is poisonous to humans and animals.
Defective furnaces, fireplaces, flues, and oil heaters are most frequently responsible for accidental CO poisonings. When improperly vented, malfunctioning home appliances like furnaces and air-conditioners can slowly fill your home with CO.
In the United States, CO leaks are responsible for an estimated 500 deaths a year and more than 15,000 trips to the emergency room. However, as CO poisoning often goes unreported, the number of instances is most likely much higher.
What Can You Look For?
CO is dangerous because there tend to be no noticeable symptoms if an individual’s CO levels are at less than 10 percent in the bloodstream.
Above 10 percent, CO poisoning symptoms may mimic the flu or a cold. At that level, symptoms may include:
- Mild confusion
- Irregular breathing and heartbeat
When CO levels exceed 20 percent, the poisoning can be fatal.
What Should You Do?If you suspect that you or members of your family are suffering from CO poisoning:
- Evacuate your home; get everyone outdoors immediately.
- Call 9-1-1 from another location.
- Report it to the fire department, even if everyone is feeling better.
How Can You Prevent CO Poisoning?
Taking a small amount of time to manage your home’s risks will greatly protect you and your family.
Have your furnace and gas appliances inspected and maintained by a qualified contractor once a year. This should be done before the start of the heating months.
And keep in mind that space heaters, ovens, and any gasoline-powered engines can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide. If you suspect the appliance or tool you’re using might be causing a buildup of CO, play it safe and open a window. If you’re working in the garage, open the door. Ventilation is a sure way to disperse a buildup of the gas.
Install a CO detector on each level of your home, and in or near each sleeping area. While you shouldn’t rely solely on CO detectors, having them properly placed throughout your home can serve as a good fail-safe.
Try to keep the detectors at least 20 feet from any fuel-burning appliances and at least 10 feet from high humidity locations like bathrooms and kitchens, as moisture can sometimes trigger faulty readings. Test the batteries of your detector regularly, and if an alarm sounds, call a professional to check your gas-burning appliances.
Visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website for more information about carbon monoxide poisoning.
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