Prevent CO Poisoning

The most effective way to combat carbon monoxide poisoning is to have your fuel-burning appliances and heating systems (including fireplaces) properly and professionally maintained ?preferably at the beginning of the heating season.
Make sure:

  • All fuel-burning appliances are installed and working according to manufacturers' instructions and local building codes.
  • Your furnace has an adequate intake of outside air.
  • Flues and chimneys are connected, unclogged, and in good working condition.
  • You never leave your car idling or a mower or blower running in a closed garage.
  • You choose appliances that vent fumes to the outside whenever possible. If your gas or kerosene space heater is unvented, carefully follow device instructions.
  • You use the proper fuel for gas or kerosene space heaters. Keep doors to the rest of the house open when using. Crack a window to ensure enough air for ventilation and proper burning of fuel. Never sleep in an enclosed space with gas or kerosene space heaters.
Although CO detectors haven't yet reached the reliability that smoke detectors have, installing one with an audible alarm is an extra level of protection it may be wise to have.

How to Choose a CO Detector
There are several types of CO detectors on the market, but they should only be used as a supplement to proper maintenance of fuel-burning appliances. Follow these guidelines when considering a carbon monoxide detector for your home:
  • Don't select a detector based solely on cost.
  • Only purchase detectors approved by Underwriters Laboratories, or models with a long-term warranty.
  • Make sure the detector you purchase is easily self-tested.
  • For maximum effectiveness during sleeping hours, place detectors as close to sleeping areas as possible.
If you have a CO detector and the alarm goes off:
  1. Make sure it is your CO detector and not your smoke detector.
  2. Check to see if any member of the household is experiencing symptoms of poisoning. If so, get them out of the house immediately and seek medical attention. Tell the doctor you suspect CO poisoning.
  3. If no one is feeling symptoms, ventilate the home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources of CO (see above).
Frequently Asked Questions
What are the symptoms of CO poisoning?
The symptoms of CO poisoning resemble those of the flu. Ignoring these symptoms, especially if more than one person is feeling them, can cause loss of consciousness and death. Play it safe. If you experience symptoms that you think could be from CO poisoning:
  1. Get fresh air immediately.
  2. Open doors and windows, turn off fuel-burning appliances, and leave the house.
  3. Go to an emergency room and tell the physician you suspect CO poisoning. Be prepared to answer the following questions for the physician:
    • Do your symptoms occur only in the house?
    • Is anyone else in your household complaining of similar symptoms?
    • Did everyone's symptoms appear about the same time?
The following table describes the symptoms associated with different levels of carbon monoxide in the blood.
Blood CO concentration Symptoms
10% No apparent symptoms
15% Mild headache
25% Nausea, serious headache (quick recovery after treatment with oxygen or fresh air)
30% Intensified headaches, nausea, dizziness, increased pulse and respiration (potential for long-term effects, especially in infants, children, the elderly, victims of heart disease, and pregnant women)
45% Unconsciousness, possible collapse, convulsions, coma, and eventually death
50% Death

How does CO work in the body?
Carbon monoxide, when inhaled, deprives your body of the oxygen it needs to survive. It does this by combining with the hemoglobin in your blood ?the part of the blood that normally transports oxygen. When carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin, it forms carboxyhemoglobin (COHb) instead of oxygen. This bond with carbon monoxide is 200 times stronger than the bond with oxygen, so it is difficult for your body to eliminate the CO buildup from your bloodstream. Even at minimal levels, prolonged exposure over a period of several hours causes oxygen deprivation.

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