Carbon monoxide, also called CO, is referred to as “the invisible killer” because it is impossible to see or smell this poisonous gas if it infests your home. Undetected exposure can be harmful, or even fatal. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) lists CO poisoning as responsible for more than 400 “unintentional, non-fire related” deaths in the US each year.
CO is produced when a fossil fuel is burned. A number of household products can produce potentially deadly CO levels if they are improperly vented or incorrectly used, including furnaces, water heaters, stoves, fireplaces, portable generators and charcoal grills.
Signs and Symptoms of CO Poisoning
Even though you can’t see or smell CO in your home, you can still be alert for the signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning. In the initial stages, they feel like the flu, but the affected person will not experience a fever.
- Shortness of breath
High levels of exposure to carbon monoxide result in a progression of symptoms. Members of an affected household may experience one or more of the following:
- Mental confusion
- Loss of muscle coordination
Continued exposure to CO can be fatal if the occupants of the home are not rescued in time.
What To Do if You Suspect Co Poisoning
If you suspect that you or a family member is experiencing the effects of CO poisoning, the most important thing is to get to fresh air immediately. Leave the house right away. Call for help once you get outside or from a neighbor’s home. Do not try to call for help from inside your own home; you may lose consciousness or even die from the effects of CO poisoning if you stay in the house.
Call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number and tell the operator you suspect CO poisoning. Request help from the Fire Department to determine when it is safe to go back inside your home.
What You Can Do to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
There are several steps you can take to lower the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning to you and your family.
- Make sure that all appliances in your home are installed according to the manufacturer’s specifications and local codes.
- The best way to ensure they are properly installed is to have a professional look after this important function.
- Read the manual that comes with new appliances before operating them and follow these directions carefully. They will direct you in the safe way to operate way to operate your new appliance.
- Do not operate portable generators indoors. Only plug them in well away from open doors and windows, which can allow CO to enter your home.
- Be alert for issues that may indicate that your appliances are not working correctly, such as burning, strange odors, decreased hot water supply, a furnace that runs constantly or does not heat the entire house or increased moisture inside of windows.
- Perform a visual inspection on your vents and chimney for any visible cracks, rust, strains or improper connections. If you see anything that is cause for concern, contact an HVAC service contractor.
- Have your heating system, including your vents, inspected and serviced each year by a trained service technician.