How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless gas. It is produced when wood, oil, or gas is burned. Common household sources include appliances, heaters, generators, and motor vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, natural gas, oil, kerosene, or burning wood. CO is also produced by hookah pipes. Every year, many people are treated for CO poisoning. In some cases, CO poisoning can be deadly. Children, older people, and people with lung disease are at higher risk for the effects of CO poisoning.

Carbon monoxide is also produced in tobacco smoke. Smokers have a higher concentration of CO in their blood than do nonsmokers.

How can carbon monoxide affect me?

Carbon monoxide affects a person’s health by binding itself to the part of the blood that carries oxygen in the human body (hemoglobin). Once this occurs, oxygen is unable to bind to hemoglobin. This lowers the amount of oxygen in your blood. As a result, the tissues in your body, specifically your brain, do not receive enough oxygen in order to work properly. If this is not treated right away, damage can be permanent or even deadly.

What actions can I take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

CO poisoning is preventable. Follow these tips to protect yourself and your family from this danger.

  • Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. They include headache, confusion, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and chest pain. These symptoms are associated with many other things, including illnesses caused by viruses. However, if several members of a household get these symptoms at once, it may be CO poisoning.
  • Install CO detectors in your house and make sure they are working. Change batteries every six months. Install one detector near every bedroom because it is possible to get CO poisoning while you are asleep. If the alarm on your CO monoxide monitor goes off, leave your house immediately and call 911.
  • Have your heating system, water heater, gas stove, gas clothes dryer, and any other fuel-burning appliances or space heaters checked and serviced every year.
  • Never use a gas stove or oven to heat your house.
  • If you have a fireplace or wood stove, make sure it is properly vented. Check all vents to make sure they are not blocked by debris or snow. Make sure you know how to check and open the fireplace flue. Have your stove or fireplace checked and serviced every year.
  • All wood, oil, or gas-burning devices should be used only in well-ventilated areas:
    • Never use a barbecue grill or hibachi in your house or in a space with poor ventilation, such as a garage, enclosed porch, tent, or camper.
    • Never use a gas-powered engine near an open window. These include a lawn mower, weed whacker, or power washer.
    • Have your car’s exhaust system inspected every year. Never leave your car running inside the garage.
    • If you have a generator, never run it inside or in an enclosed space. Keep it at least 20 feet away from your home.
  • If you have a power boat, have your boat engine and exhaust system checked and serviced regularly. Install a CO monitor inside your boat. Never swim near the back of your boat when the engine is running or has been running recently.

Where to find more information

Contact a health care provider if:

  • You or someone else has symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you suspect you or someone else may be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning, move them to fresh air and seek help right away.

Get help right away if you or someone else:

  • Has lost consciousness.
  • Has trouble breathing.
  • Has chest pain.

These symptoms may represent a serious problem that is an emergency. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will go away. Get medical help right away. Call your local emergency services (911 in the U.S.). Do not drive yourself to the hospital.

Summary

  • CO is an odorless and colorless gas that can be dangerous when inhaled. It is produced by appliances, heaters, generators, and motor vehicles that run on gasoline, diesel fuel, propane, natural gas, oil, kerosene, or burning wood.
  • Take steps to prevent CO poisoning by always operating such devices in well-ventilated areas.
  • Install CO monitors in all areas of your house where you or someone else could be exposed to CO.
  • Know the symptoms of CO poisoning. Call 911 for symptoms of severe poisoning.
  • If the alarm on your CO monitor goes off, get out of the house and call 911 right away.
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