Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a potentially deadly, odorless, tasteless gas.

Health Risks

Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause permanent damage to parts of your body that require a lot of oxygen, such as the heart and brain, and may result in neurological damage, illness, coma, or death. Infants, pregnant women, people with lung or heart disease, and people with anemia are especially vulnerable to the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Sources of Exposure

Carbon monoxide comes from fuel burning sources including: furnaces, fireplaces, cars, wood stoves, kerosene space heaters, charcoal grills, and gas appliances like water heaters, ovens, and clothes dryers. If installed, maintained, and used properly, these appliances are not a problem. Carbon monoxide becomes a problem when:

  • Vehicles are left running in enclosed spaces.
  • Vehicles idle near fresh air sources such as doors, windows, and ventilation system air intakes.
  • You sit in an idling car or swim behind an idling boat.
  • Portable fuel-burning heating units or generators are used indoors without proper ventilation.
  • Chimneys and flues become damaged or blocked.
  • Homes are too tightly sealed and insulated causing carbon monoxide to be trapped in living areas.
  • Charcoal is burned inside a home, or in a tent, vehicle, or garage.
  • Unvented gasoline, propane, or natural gas equipment is used indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.

Signs and Symptoms

Health effects from carbon monoxide poisoning can occur over a short or long period of time. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include headaches, dizziness, drowsiness, nausea, vomiting, shortness of breath, and tightness across the chest.

What you should do

If you think you have been exposed to carbon monoxide

  • Leave the area you are in immediately and get fresh air.
  • Call 911 from a safe location.
  • Call your local fire department to have the carbon monoxide level checked in your home.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor.

To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

  • Heat and ventilate with properly installed and maintained equipment. Never use a gas range, oven, or dryer for heating your home. Never operate an unvented gas-burning appliance in a closed room or in a room while you sleep.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in several areas of your home or business, including the basement stairwell and outside bedrooms.
  • Test your carbon monoxide alarm routinely and replace dead batteries.
  • Read and follow instructions when installing appliances and combustion devices or have a trained professional do the installation.
  • Maintain and inspect appliances according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Do not use gasoline-powered equipment and tools indoors or in partially enclosed spaces.
  • Ensure that snow and ice do not block exhaust vents and pipes on buildings and vehicles.