Carbon Monoxide

Author: Monique Herb, Regional Manager

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless and deadly gas.  You can’t see, taste, or smell it, but carbon monoxide has the power to kill before one is even aware of its presence.

Why is CO dangerous?
When inhaled, CO attracts and binds to hemoglobin in the human bloodstream, thus decreasing the oxygen-carrying capacity of blood to your body.  This ultimately deprives the heart and brain of oxygen, which is needed in order to keep you alive.  When CO is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood causing symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion, and irritability.  As CO levels increase, vomiting, loss of consciousness, brain damage, or death can result.

Where is CO found?
The following items may produce carbon monoxide:
1. Anything that burns coal, gasoline, kerosene, oil, propane, or wood
2. Automobile engines
3. Charcoal grills (remember charcoal should never be burned indoors)
4. Indoor or portable heating systems
5. Stoves (indoor and campy stoves)
6. Water heaters that use natural gas

If you suspect that you have been exposed to CO, immediately consult with a doctor.  Prompt medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of poisoning. If the doctor confirms CO exposure, make sure a qualified service person inspects all of the appliances and heating devices in your household for proper operation before reusing them.

Oftentimes, people assume an appliance, such as a water heater, is working properly, but over time the piping and metals in the furnace become damaged, prompting CO leakage.  Because leakage can occur without warning, some states require the application of an in-home CO detector.  California has passed a similar law, with the exception that detector installation requirements only apply within dwelling units, not single homes.

CO is the number one cause of poisoning in the United States, yet less than five percent of all CO poisonings are reported.  Listed are simple steps that can be taken to insure your house is safe from this toxic gas:

  • Purchase a CO detector
  • Call the gas company to check for leaks (every two years)
  • Turn off your furnace during the summer
  • Sleep with a window open, especially in two-story homes for circulation
  • Set your thermostat between 65 – 68 degrees in the evening

Animals can also be poisoned by CO. People who have pets at home may notice that their animals become weak or unresponsive from CO exposure. Often the pets will get sick before humans. Since many of CO poisoning symptoms can occur with viral illnesses, sometimes this can lead to a delay in getting help. 

Remember to install a CO detector on each floor of your home. Place an additional detector near any major gas-burning appliances (such as a furnace or water heater). 

The information provided is for general interest only and should not be misconstrued as a diagnosis, prognosis or treatment recommendation. This information does not in any way constitute the practice of medicine, or any other health care profession. Readers are directed to consult their health care provider regarding their specific health situation. Marque Medical is not liable for any action taken by a reader based upon this information.

Skip to content