“The silent killer.” It’s a perplexing name for a common household hazard. We’ve all heard of the dangers of carbon monoxide, but few of us are taught exactly what causes CO poisoning.
Understanding the causes of CO poisoning are essential in reducing the risk that you or your family could be harmed by this poisonous gas. So, in this article we’ll break down what exactly it is that carbon monoxide does to the body, where it can occur in the home, and how to protect yourself against it.
What is carbon monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, odorless, colorless, and poisonous gas. Because it is so dangerous to humans, fuels that emit carbon monoxide are usually mixed with other gases that do have an odor. This way, humans can typically smell gas and therefore be alerted that they are in danger.
What does CO do to the body?
When inhaled, carbon monoxide inhibits your body’s ability to use oxygen. So, even though you are breathing in air, your body is still suffocating. As a result, the lack of oxygen caused by carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to death the same way that drowning does.
High levels of CO in the air can cause you to succumb within minutes. Your chest will tighten, you’ll feel dizzy or drowsy and could suffocate if you don’t get away from the area.
However, lower levels of CO exposure can also be dangerous. People often notice headaches, slight dizziness and muscle fatigue and mistake the symptoms for the flu.
People who are asleep can die from carbon monoxide poisoning without ever experiencing symptoms.
Where is CO found within the home?
Since carbon monoxide occurs from unburned fuels leaking in the air, there are a number of sources within and outside the home that emit carbon monoxide.
According to the American Lung Association, some common sources of carbon monoxide include:
Gas appliances (furnaces, ranges, ovens, water heaters, clothes dryers, etc.)
Fireplaces, wood stoves
Coal or oil furnaces
Space heaters or oil or kerosene heaters
Charcoal grills, camp stoves
Gas-powered lawn mowers and power tools
Automobile exhaust fumes
How to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning
Luckily there are several ways to protect yourself from carbon monoxide poisoning. Knowing what causes it is the first and most important way. Preventing gas leaks in appliances and maintaining proper upkeep of those appliances is one important way.
Another tip to keep in mind is to make sure your home is well ventilated. If cooking for a long period of time, don’t leave gas ranges unattended. If the knobs on your range are easily turned, make sure children and pets aren’t left alone near the oven.
Never use items like kerosene lanterns, portable camping stoves, burning charcoal, or running engines inside your home or garage. Lack of ventilation can easily cause CO levels to rise to a dangerous level within minutes.
Common mistakes involving carbon monoxide include running lawnmowers or other gas-powered items inside a garage, or leaving a car running in a garage.
Finally, install a carbon monoxide detector in your house and garage. Change the batteries regularly and test the alarm often. If you smell gas in your home and can’t identify the source immediately, open the windows and leave the house.