Carbon monoxide is a part of our everyday life; we regularly come in contact with it in both large and small quantities. However, it is imperative that we keep our interactions with carbon monoxide to a minimum.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas, and when this gas accumulates in your bloodstream it leads to carbon monoxide poisoning. CO poisoning occurs when the oxygen in the air gives way to this gas. Therefore, we begin to breathe in carbon monoxide, which replaces the oxygen in our red blood cells. The effects of inhaling carbon monoxide can be fatal.

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, colorless, and tasteless gas. The burning of propane, wood, gasoline, charcoal, and other fuel can produce CO. Inhaling this gas can make you very ill, and it can kill anyone who inhales it in too large of quantities.

After inhaling this poisonous gas, it enters your bloodstream and forms a mix with the hemoglobin in your red blood cells. Hemoglobin is the part of your red blood cells responsible for carrying oxygen around throughout your body. The mixture between hemoglobin and carbon monoxide is  what we call carboxyhemoglobin. When carboxyhemoglobin forms, the blood becomes unable to carry oxygen. When oxygen transport does not occur, the cells in your body and your tissues will fail and die. If enough tissue is affected the outcome can be fatal.

In the US, more than 400 deaths every year are caused by accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. Another 50,000 people a year need medical attention due to accidental CO poisoning.

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Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms may not be significantly visible if the gas exposure is minimal. Nonetheless, the common symptoms of CO poisoning are:

  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Headache
  • Chest Pain
  • Confusion
  • Stomach Upset
  • Vomiting

These symptoms normally happen together, feeling predominantly flu-like, but don’t cause high temperatures and are also similar to the symptoms of food poisoning. Inhaling large amounts of CO can make you pass out or even kill you. Furthermore, a sleeping or drunk person can die of carbon monoxide poisoning without waking up or showing any symptoms.

Generally speaking, symptoms of CO poisoning will increase in magnitude alongside prolonged exposure to the gas. The longer you inhale the gas, the more prone you become to losing your balance, vision, memory, and eventually, you will pass out. Depending on the amount of gas, this can happen within 2 hours of exposure to this gas.

Once you notice these symptoms, you should seek medical attention and call a qualified professional to investigate a possible gas leak.

Neurological Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

When you are exposed for a long time to low levels of carbon monoxide, here are some neurological symptoms to expect

  • Thinking and Concentration Problems
  • Emotional Imbalance – heightened irritability, depression, impulsiveness and irrational decision-making patterns

Whereas, when you breathe in Carbon monoxide for a prolonged time but at high levels, more severe symptoms may occur, such as:

  • Mimic Intoxication
  • Vertigo
  • Ataxia
  • Irregular Heart Rate or Breathlessness
  • Chest Pain or Heart Attack
  • Seizures
  • Loss of Consciousness – may lead to death, especially in a scenario where very high levels of carbon monoxide are in the air. Death here can happen in minutes.
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What Can Cause Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The incomplete burning of fuels can produce carbon monoxide. Examples of such fuels are gas, coal, oil, and wood. Furthermore, carbon monoxide can come from different sources. Examples of such are the burning of charcoal, gas fumes from running cars, smoke from cigarettes, and gas leaks from gas powered appliances.

Remember that more of our home appliances such as gas cookers, heating systems, gas fires, boilers, open fires, generators, etc., use gas, oil, gasoline, and wood as a source of fuel. When these appliances are poorly installed or do not have adequate ventilation, accidental exposure to carbon monoxide becomes probable. RV's, boats, and mobile homes also emit levels of CO.

Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The possible and common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning include:

  • Using a Generator inside – generators are for use in open space. Using a generator inside a house or building that is poorly ventilated can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Running a Car Inside a Garage – before running your car engine within your car or another primarily enclosed space enclosed space, we advise you to open the doors, windows, and vents. Running your car in a closed garage will lead to high levels of carbon monoxide and possible death.
  • Blocked Flues and Chimneys – a blocked Chimney will prevent the carbon monoxide produced from the fire from escaping your home. This is extremely dangerous, always ensure that flues and chimneys are opened and unblocked.
  • A Faulty Car Exhaust or Blocked Exhaust – exhaust pipe leakage or blockage in automobiles are causes of carbon monoxide poisoning and buildup. If the pipe is leaking or blocked the CO will start building up inside your enclosed vehicle. The issue of a blocked car exhaust is more common after a heavy snowfall, flood, or recreational activities like mudding.
  • Other Possible Causes Include: Gas Fires/ Leaks, Water Heater Malfunction, Air Conditioner Malfunction, Open Flames without ventilation, and more.
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Carbon Monoxide Preparedness

As with most disasters or accidents, it is of grave importance that we prepare adequately to prevent them. Simply put, these are preventive measures that you can set in place to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, especially in your home and your car. Measures like using carbon monoxide detectors, flashlights, and battery powered lanterns instead of candles, and preventive maintenance for CO-producing appliances can always come in handy.

How Can I Prevent CO Poisoning in My Home?

  • It is recommended to have a professional technician service your water heater, heating system, any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances at least once a year.
  • You can install a Carbon Monoxide detector in your home.
  • Be observant to notice any smell or odor from your gas appliances. If you smell gas, either call a local expert to inspect the appliance, or call 911 to alert the local official that there may be a prominent gas leak.
  • When you purchase gas equipment, ensure that the equipment has a seal of a national testing agency.
  • It is recommended to have your chimney cleaned and checked once a year for blockage caused by soot and other debris.
  • The burning of charcoal emits CO, so do not burn charcoal inside your home
  • Do not use a portable gas camp stove indoors
  • Never use a gas range or oven for heating in your home. This is a common occurrence during the winter. You are better just turning on the heat or wrapping up in several layers.
  • Do not use a generator inside your home, garage, basement, or less than 20 feet from any window, vent, or door.

How to Avoid CO Poisoning From My Car

  • Always take your car to a mechanic for its annual tune up, especially to inspect your car’s exhaust system.
  • Do not run your car or other engine source in a closed garage or shed.
  • If your car or truck has a tailgate cover, always open the vents and windows when loading or unloading to make sure air passes through.