Each year, 20,000 people in the U.S. are poisoned by carbon monoxide, and approximately 400 people die, many in their own homes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas, but it can be very dangerous to your health and sometimes fatal. You have no way of knowing if carbon monoxide is leaking in your home unless you have a carbon monoxide detector.
Not all states require homes to have carbon monoxide alarms, but installing one can be the difference between life and death.
Carbon monoxide is produced whenever a material burns. Homes with fuel-burning appliances or attached garages are more likely to have carbon monoxide problems.Â Sources of carbon monoxide, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), include these:
- Unvented kerosene and gas space heaters
- Leaking chimneys and furnaces
- Back-drafting from furnaces
- Gas water heaters, wood stoves, and fireplaces
- Gas stoves
- Generators and other gasoline-powered equipment
- Automobile exhaust from attached garages
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur when the gas is trapped in poorly ventilated, contained spaces where people are. If you breathe in too much carbon monoxide, your ability to absorb oxygen can be compromised, resulting in serious tissue damage.
Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include a dull headache, weakness, dizziness, and nausea as initial symptoms. High-level poisoning can result in vomiting, shortness of breath, confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.
When carbon monoxide problems slowly develop in a home, victims often mistake their symptoms for the flu. When carbon monoxide levels are higher and develop more quickly, for example, from generators in homes, mental confusion can set in rapidly. Victims may lose muscle control without being aware of the flu-like symptoms and will probably succumb to poisoning if they are not rescued.
Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in your home is as simple as installing a carbon monoxide detector in the hallway near every area of your home where people sleep. Carbon monoxide detectors are designed to alarm before potentially life-threatening levels of carbon monoxide are reached.
Here are other things you can do to reduce the chance of carbon monoxide poisoning in your home:
- Have your heating system (as well as chimneys and flues) professionally inspected and serviced every year.
- Do not use charcoal inside your house or your garage, vehicle, or tent.
- In an attached garage, even if the door is open, never leave a car running.
- Do not operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in a room where people are sleeping.
- Do not use a portable generator or any other gasoline engine-powered tool in or near any house, garage, or other enclosed space.