Are You at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?


According to the CDC, there are about 20,000 emergency room visits for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States every year. Carbon monoxide is incredibly dangerous and nearly impossible for a human to detect, so how can you protect yourself? Learn how you can keep your family safe and what to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is an odorless, invisible gas. When oxygen in the atmosphere is scarce, machinery and fires use carbon dioxide for fuel instead. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct of this process. For example, if you light a fire in your fireplace and debris in the chimney prevents the circulation of fresh air, new oxygen can’t come in and carbon dioxide can’t leave, resulting in the creation of carbon monoxide. Common sources of carbon monoxide include car exhaust accumulating in a closed garage, natural and gas fireplaces without proper ventilation, and gas leaks from broken home appliances.

When inhaled, carbon monoxide enters your bloodstream and replaces the oxygen there. Organs like your brain and heart need oxygen to function, and when they receive this under-oxygenated blood, they can’t work properly. When these organs don’t have access to oxygen for extended periods of time, permanent damage can occur.

Preventive Measures

Since carbon monoxide is undetectable to the human body, protect yourself and your family by installing carbon monoxide detectors in your home. Ensure they’re in proper working order and change their batteries twice a year. A helpful way to remember is to check your detector whenever you change your clocks around daylight saving time. If all of your clocks adjust to time changes automatically, set alarms in a calendar app that will alert you on those days. Replace your detectors every five years, and make sure to install a sensor in your bedroom where you’ll hear it if it goes off at night.

To reduce the risk of carbon monoxide build-up, have a professional come to your house and service your water heater and heating system once a year. Never burn wood, charcoal, or any other organic material inside without proper ventilation. If you need to use a generator in your house, place it as close to an open window as possible, with it being no more than 20 feet from a ventilation source at all times.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Knowing the signs can help you identify carbon monoxide poisoning and take action. Common symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Vomiting
  • Unconsciousness
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Chest pain

First Aid for People Exposed to Carbon Monoxide

If you suspect someone is incapacitated due to carbon monoxide poisoning, move them to an open area with fresh air. However, only do so if you can safely carry the affected person without exposing yourself to carbon monoxide for an extended period of time. Once you are in a safe area, call 911 and check if the person is breathing. If they aren’t breathing, perform CPR until medical personnel arrives.

Don’t hesitate to seek emergency medical care if you suspect someone has experienced carbon monoxide poisoning. Minutes matter! Know where to go in an emergency by finding your nearest CHI St. Luke’s Health emergency room location today.


CDC | Carbon Monoxide Poisoning FAQs
OSHA | Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Fact Sheet
Carbon Monoxide Kills | Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

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