Carbon Monoxide – The Silent Killer

Carbon Monoxide - The Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a gas that can be very dangerous. It is called a silent killer because it’s odorless, invisible, and tasteless and can quickly kill you. The CDC reports about 420 people die annually and more than 100,000 people go to the ER from CO poisoning.

Signs and Symptoms

It’s critical to recognize the early signs of CO poisoning. CO prevents the body from getting oxygen, which will make you feel dizzy, nauseous, weak, sleepy, confused, and gives you a headache. You’ll start to notice shortness of breath, loss of muscle control, chest tightness, visual changes, and fluttering of the heart. As exposure continues, it gets more dangerous. You may experience slowed reaction time or altered behaviors. At high levels, the results are suffocation, loss of consciousness, brain damage, and unfortunately death. Because early symptoms match up with flu symptoms, many people dismiss it. But the key differences include that the symptoms get worse shortly after turning on a fuel-burning device, multiple people in the building become sick at the same time, and symptoms hit at a certain time or area and go away soon after leaving that area.

What To Do

If you suspect you’ve been exposed to CO, get outside or away from the area immediately. Call 911 if it’s an emergency and if you feel others are in danger. Contact your local fire department to come out and check the area. If you can, turn off non-electrical appliances and leave the doors or windows open as you leave. Act quickly because as exposure continues, your symptoms will get worse and you’ll be less capable of making life-saving decisions.

Sources for Carbon Monoxide

Many indoor sources can be a risk for CO poisoning. Heating appliances such as furnaces and water heaters can be a hazard, so you need to schedule annual maintenance to stay safe. Cooking appliances such as gas ranges or grills can also be problematic, so never use these as a heat source for your home. Lawnmowers, snowblowers, and chainsaws are also sources of CO, which means they should never be used indoors or in areas of poor ventilation. Never allow your car to idle inside the garage, and always check that the exhaust pipe is not blocked. Boats should be used with caution as well, and boaters should never idle in one pace for extended periods of time.

CO poisoning always ramps up in the winter months. The Unified Fire Authority recently posted on social media that “as a result of the snow piling from our recent storm, our crews have responded to several carbon monoxide-related calls due to improper venting of home appliances. When snow accumulates on the vents of appliances, such as furnaces, and water heaters, it can block the release of carbon monoxide (CO), a poisonous gas. This has led to CO buildup in many homes and can cause CO poisoning and in extreme cases, death.” Unified Fire stressed homeowners to keep appliance vents clear of snow and debris and make sure appliances are inspected and maintained regularly. Also consider getting CO detectors or alarms for your home.

Back to blog