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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Facts

Carbon monoxide (sometimes referred to as CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning material containing carbon. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain damage and death. You can't see it, smell it, or taste it; but carbon monoxide can kill you.

  • Because carbon monoxide is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless gas, it is known as the "silent killer." 
  • Carbon monoxide is produced by common household appliances. When not properly ventilated, carbon monoxide emitted by these appliances can build up. See the list of appliances that can emit carbon monoxide in this article under Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes.
  • Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning such as headaches, nausea, and fatigue, are often mistaken for the flu because the deadly gas goes undetected in a home. Prolonged exposure can lead to brain damage and even death.

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Causes

Carbon monoxide is formed when organic compounds burn. The most common sources are motor vehicle exhaust, smoke from fires, engine fumes, and nonelectric heaters. Carbon monoxide poisoning is often associated with malfunctioning or obstructed exhaust systems and with suicide attempts.

Sources of carbon monoxide:

  • Gas water heaters
  • Kerosene space heaters
  • Charcoal grills
  • Propane heaters and stoves
  • Gasoline and diesel powered generators
  • Cigarette smoke
  • Propane-fueled forklifts
  • Gasoline powered concrete saws
  • Indoor tractor pulls
  • Boats engines
  • Spray paint, solvents, degreasers, and paint removers

Risks for exposure to carbon monoxide include

  • Children riding in the back of enclosed pickup trucks (particularly high risk)
  • Industrial workers at pulp mills, steel foundries, and plants producing formaldehyde or coke (a hard grey fuel)
  • Personnel at fire scenes
  • Using heating sources or electric generators during power outages
  • Those working indoors with combustion engines or combustible gases
  • Swimming near or under the stern or swim-step of a boat with the boat engine running
  • Back drafting when a boat is operated at a high bow angle
  • Mooring next to a boat that is running a generator or engine
  • Improper boat ventilation
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/19/2016

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Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Protecting Your Home

Steps to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning include the following:

  • Purchase and install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home and near sleeping areas. Use those marked UL 2034 or IAS 6“96, which have met the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission guidelines. Follow the directions carefully for installing and using the detector. Be prepared so that you know what to do if the detector alarm sounds.
  • Have your heating system inspected each year.
  • Monitor appliances, chimneys, and vents for visible soot, rust, stains, blockage, or corrosion. Also have them inspected each year. When in use, make sure they vent properly to allow gas to escape from enclosed areas. Don't close the fireplace or wood/pellet stove damper before the fire is completely out.
  • Don't use kerosene or propane heaters in an enclosed area. Don't use a gas kitchen oven to heat your home.
  • Don't burn charcoal or use a grill indoors.
  • Don't place power generators or pressure washers near windows or doors of your home.
  • Don't use paint remover that has methylene chloride in it, especially when children are around. (Methylene chloride converts to carbon monoxide in the body.)
  • Don't smoke cigarettes or have your child near someone who is smoking, especially in a poorly ventilated room.

SOURCE: Healthwise


Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Toxicity, Carbon Monoxide »

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by incomplete combustion of carbonaceous material.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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