Carbon Monoxide 101: What You Need to Know

Carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer. It is a gas that is colorless, tasteless, odorless and doesn’t irritate you or make you aware of its presence in any way. Exposure to carbon monoxide is actually the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. The worst thing about the fatalities of carbon monoxide is that they are preventable.

Where is carbon monoxide found?

Carbon monoxide can be found both inside and outside. Most carbon monoxide in the outdoors comes from car exhaust. Most of the carbon monoxide found inside the house is due to the gas burned by appliances, and most carbon monoxide poisoning occurs inside the home.

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What are the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide poisons you by getting into your body (inhaled) and shutting down your system so that you cannot receive the proper amount of oxygen. Carbon monoxide attaches to hemoglobin in your body. The more you breathe in, the more hemoglobin attach and the less oxygen you receive.

The first onslaught of CO poisoning symptoms are much like those experienced with the flu. You may have a headache, feel dizzy or weak, experience nausea or a loss of muscle control, tightness in your chest, loss of breath, sleepiness, heart fluctuations, changes in vision, confusion, slowed reaction time or redness of the skin. If the levels of carbon monoxide are high, you will suffocate, which can result in loss of consciousness, severe brain damage or even death.

How do I know if I have carbon monoxide poisoning?

If more than one person in your home is experiencing these symptoms, you may be experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning.

If your symptoms get worse when you turn on appliances that burn fuel, such as your stove, or if your symptoms start to disappear when you leave the house, you probably have carbon monoxide poisoning.

Your age has a lot to do with how you will react to carbon monoxide. If you don’t have any symptoms, but your children do, it could be a sign of carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide will attack infants, toddlers, children and the elderly first, as their immune systems are less advanced. It will also reach those with heart problems, breathing problems and anemia first too.

What should I do if I have carbon monoxide poisoning?

The first thing you must do is remove yourself and your family members from the house and breathe in some fresh air. If the carbon monoxide is outside the home, try and move to a different location. Turn off any electrical appliance within the area and call the fire department.

How can I prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

Get a carbon monoxide detector. You can find these at your local hardware or home improvement company. They look exactly like smoke alarms and work the same way, only with carbon monoxide instead of smoke.

Make sure that your alarm contains a battery backup and check often to make sure that the alarm works. Carbon monoxide detectors expire after a few years, so make sure to replace old ones with new ones when necessary. Having a detector in your home is the only way to keep you and your family safe from the silent killer.

Flora Huges lives in Chicago.  She is an avid writer and likes to write about health, safety, and cleaning.  Flora recently wrote about the importance of MSDS sheets.

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