Everything You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

What's odorless, colorless, and deadly? If you answered carbon monoxide, you're right. Commonly referred to as the "invisible killer, “carbon monoxide causes hundreds of fatalities each year.

Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, many homeowners worry about it striking their families when they least expect it. You may wonder how to recognize something you can't see or smell, and you might be at a loss as to how to protect yourself and your family from this deadly gas.

To put your mind at ease and to help you avoid carbon monoxide poisoning, we've put together the following guide. This blog will help you familiarize yourself with carbon monoxide poisoning’s sources, symptoms, and prevention methods.
Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide can come from a variety of materials. A simple rule of thumb to remember is any material that burns produces carbon monoxide. So, materials like gasoline, oil, propane, wood, coal, and natural gas all release carbon monoxide when burned.
Think about how many fuel-burning appliances you have around your home-there are more than you think. All of the following burn fuel and subsequently release carbon monoxide:

  • Clothes dryers
  • Fireplaces
  • Water heaters
  • Furnaces
  • Gas stoves
  • Gas or kerosene space heaters
  • Charcoal and gas grills
  • Motor vehicles

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
With so many sources of carbon monoxide, you need to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.

By being in tune with the signs, you can prevent serious illness and even death.
Common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

You might notice that these symptoms are very similar to symptoms of the flu. So how can you tell the difference between the two? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do your symptoms subside when you're away from home?
  • Do you only feel sick when you spend time around a fuel-burning device?
  • Do multiple members of your family exhibit the same symptoms all at once?
  • Do the family members who spend the most amount of time at home feel sicker than other members of the family?
  • If you have pets, are they also ill?

Prolonged exposure to carbon monoxide can lead to even more severe symptoms, such as:

  • Persistent vomiting and diarrhea
  • Loss of coordination
  • Confusion and feelings of disorientation
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Death, which often occurs when people are asleep

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are numerous steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning.

  1. Install carbon monoxide alarms in your home.
    These devices sound an alarm any time carbon monoxide levels in your home reach an unhealthy level, warning you to get out right away. You can buy these alarms at most home improvement stores and install them yourself.  Make sure to place them near bedrooms and other sleeping areas of your home.

  2. Monitor and test your alarms on a regular basis.
    Test your alarm once every month to ensure it's doing its job. And remember to replace the batteries in the fall and spring when you change your clocks for daylight saving time.

  3. Ensure proper ventilation throughout your home. The best way to protect against this silent killer is to make sure your home has proper ventilation.
    •    Call a professional to inspect and clean your heating system and air ducts on an annual basis.
    •    Open chimney flues when you use fireplaces or wood-burning stoves.
    •    Crack open windows and/or doors when you use space heaters and when you warm your car up in the garage.
    •    Examine outdoor vents after snow or windstorms. Debris from the storm might cover vent openings, trapping carbon monoxide in your home.
  4. Know what appliances not to use inside.
    Some appliances produce so much carbon monoxide that you should never use them inside, including:
    •    Generators
    •    Gas and charcoal grills
    •    Camp stoves

Just because you can't see or smell carbon monoxide doesn't mean you should ignore it. Keep these tips in mind, and be sure to have an HVAC professional inspect your home's ventilation to ensure it’s in proper working order.

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