Carbon monoxide (CO) has been labeled as “the silent killer” and with good reason. You won’t see it. You won’t smell it, and you definitely won’t hear it. Accidental CO poisoning is responsible for hundreds of deaths, as well as thousands of cases of illness, each year. Staying informed is the best way to protect your home and family from dangerous carbon monoxide levels.
According to the National Safety Council, one in every 126 people die from accidental poisoning and exposure to noxious substances. Understanding CO poisoning and its symptoms can aid in early detection before life-threatening damage can be done. Your body’s red blood cells absorb CO faster than they absorb oxygen. This means that the more CO in the air, the higher chance of it replacing the oxygen in your blood. When starved of oxygen, vital tissues in the body (namely the brain) will suffer serious damage and can result in death. Without prompt medical attention, the brain will shut down. Time of exposure and concentration of CO in the air are both important factors when dealing with CO poisoning. If you suspect dangerous levels of CO in your home, get outdoors immediately.
What produces CO?
Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of incomplete combustion and is produced whenever fuel is burned. While cars are one of the biggest producers of this gas, several common household items are responsible for carbon monoxide creation. If you have a gas or oil-burning furnace, a charcoal grill or even a portable generator, you’re creating carbon monoxide each time you use it.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Like Acute Mountain Sickness (commonly referred to as altitude sickness, another oxygen-deprivation illness), those suffering from CO poisoning may experience headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion before loss of consciousness. CO poisoning is especially dangerous because its symptoms are present in many common illnesses, leading to misdiagnosis. Someone with CO poisoning may present flu-like symptoms. If it happens to be flu season, a time when many homes are running their furnaces, a misdiagnosis could lead to improper treatment and unimpeded damage from the CO exposure.
Protecting Your Home Against CO
• CO detectors are available for easy, in-home installation. Good places to place them are near sleeping areas, kitchens and garages.
• Make sure to check your CO detectors for functionality. Refresh the batteries each month.
• If you have a gas or oil furnace, have it professionally inspected each year. Most HVAC companies offer inexpensive winter tune-ups that include testing for elevated CO levels. If there is any danger of CO exposure, it can be detected and repaired.
• Never use your portable generator inside your home or garage. It is recommended that they be used only outdoors, at least 20 feet from your home. (This knowledge could have saved the lives of many New Yorkers who died from CO poisoning after Hurricane Sandy.)
• Never leave your vehicle idling inside a garage even with the garage door open.
CO poisoning is a very real danger. With the elevated use of furnaces and generators in the winter months, protecting your home is more important than ever. Staying up to date with proper tune-ups on all HVAC systems and installing CO detectors will ensure safety and even more peace of mind.