carbon monoxide detectorCredit: amazon image

What is Carbon Monoxide:

Carbon Monoxide is a toxic gas fume that is odorless, colorless, and tasteless.  If undetected, it can make people and pets very sick and even cause death.  By following some easy prevention and detection tips, you can keep your loved ones safe and healthy. 

Where is Carbon Monoxide found?

Carbon Monoxide is commonly called "CO".  CO is found in combustion fumes that come from engines in vehicles, furnaces, camp stoves, lanterns, kitchen ranges, refrigerators, space heaters, generators, or burning charcoal & wood.  It can also be found in construction equipment, house fires, and even cigarette smoke.  Carbon monoxide is a product of incomplete combustion of organic matter under conditions of restricted oxygen supply.  Build-up and exposure occurs when any of these items producing fumes are used in an area that is not well ventilated or enclosed.  It can also occur if a device or machine is not working properly. 

What is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning? 

Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout the body.  When there is an excess of Carbon monoxide in the environment, the red blood cells pick up the Carbon monoxide quicker.  It is easily absorbed through the lungs.  The body then replaces the oxygen in the hemoglobin of your red blood cells with CO to make carboxyhemoglobin.  It will then block any oxygen from getting to tissues and organs.  CO is toxic to all living beings that breathe air.  Exposure and build-up can lead to tissue damage, injury and death.  When the concentration in the air reaches 100 parts per million or more, it can be dangerous for humans and animals.

concentration exposureWhat are the symptoms of Carbon monoxide poisoning? 

The most common symptom of acute carbon monoxide poisoning is headache.  It is often described as a continuous, dull ache in the front of the head.  Initial symptoms may also include dizziness, nausea, shortness of breath, blurred vision, fatigue, and malaise.  For many people, it is mistaken for other illnesses like the flu or food poisoning.  Extended exposure produces fast heart rate, low blood pressure, hallucinations, confusion, seizures, depression, unconsciousness, and death.  Some less common symptoms of acute carbon monoxide poisoning include pneumonia, high blood sugar, muscle necrosis, kidney failure, and skin lesions.  Chronic exposure to lower levels of CO may cause constant headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea or vomiting, memory loss, and confusion.  Usually, once a person removes themselves from the area of exposure, symptoms improve.  It is not known if chronic exposure leads to permanent neurological damage. 

What are the complications of Carbon monoxide poisoning? 

Health complications depend on the length and degree of exposure to fumes. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause brain and heart damage.  Some of which, may lead to possible life threatening complications later in life.  Death is also a possibility if exposure is severe. 

Who is at risk? 

Anyone can be at risk if you live or work in an area that has an appliance, device or machine that produce CO fumes.  Carbon monoxide exposure is particularly dangerous for pregnant women with unborn babies, infants, young children, elderly adults and people with chronic health problems.  The fumes may also be fatal for people who are sleeping or intoxicated because they don’t realize there’s a problem.  CO poisoning is the most common type of fatal poisoning in many countries. 

When should you seek medical care? 

If any carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms develop – headaches, vomiting, dizziness, confusion - and you suspect exposure, get into fresh air immediately and call for emergency help.  In the case of unconsciousness, CPR may need to be performed.  Even though the symptoms of poisoning may be subtle, get immediate care for anyone exposed since this condition could be life threatening.

How do you prepare for appointment? 

When symptoms or signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are present, provide medical staff with this critical information:

** Signs or symptoms – and when they began 
** Possible source of carbon monoxide fumes 
** Mental impairment like memory loss or confusion 
** Loss of consciousness 
** Prior medical conditions 
** Intoxication or drug use 
** Possible pregnancy 
** Smoking habits

How do they diagnose and test for Carbon monoxide poisoning? 
To confirm suspected poisoning, medical personnel will take a blood sample to test for carbon monoxide in your blood.  There is also a machine called a CO-oximeter that used to determine levels of carboxyhemoglobin in the blood.  A pulse CO-oximeter is a non-invasive finger clip that passes various wavelengths of light through the fingertip.  It measures the light absorption of the different types of hemoglobin in the capillaries. There is also test utilizing a breath CO monitor.  It uses an exhaled breath sample to determine ppm with its corresponding percent concentration of carboxyhemoglobin.

Are there treatments for Carbon monoxide poisoning? 
It is important to safely remove the person who has had exposure into an area with fresh air, whether that is a safe room of a building or outside.  Unconscious persons may require CPR on site.  Administration of pure oxygen shortens the half-life of carbon monoxide to 80 minutes from 320 minutes on normal air. This helps oxygen reach organs and tissues faster. If a person is unconscious and cannot breathe on their own, a ventilator machine may be needed to do the breathing for them.  Hyperbaric oxygen is also used as a treatment for poisoning.  With this therapy, a person is placed in a pressurized chamber where the air pressure is more than twice as high as normal atmospheric pressure.  It makes the dissociation of CO from carboxyhemoglobin faster than normal oxygen.  It shortens the half life of carbon monoxide to 23 minutes compared to 80 minutes with a pure oxygen mask.

Are there legal requirements for Carbon monoxide detection nationwide? 

As of December 2012, twenty-five North American states have statutes that require carbon monoxide detectors in certain residential buildings.  The National Fire Protection Association has published guidelines for CO detector placement or alarms on every level of a residence within 10 feet of sleeping rooms and the basement. These guidelines now pertain to non-residential buildings like schools, day cares, nursing homes, and healthcare centers.  They also recommend that AC powered units have battery backup and be interconnected to ensure early warning to occupants at all levels.  The NFPA standard is not necessarily enforced by law.  It is always a good idea to check with your local city or state for laws and rules that are accurate for your area.

Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Preventable? 

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is very easy when you follow some simple precautions.  First and foremost, invest in a good carbon monoxide detector that has been approved by the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.  They state that “carbon monoxide detectors are as important to home safety as smoke detectors are.”  A good rule of thumb is to have a CO detector on each floor of your home.  CO detectors are fairly inexpensive, widely available, and are either battery or AC powered, with or without battery back up.  If abnormal levels of CO are detected, an alarm sounds alerting occupants and giving them a warning to evacuate and ventilate the area.  It is very important to maintain fresh batteries in your detector.  It is recommended that they be changed twice a year along with the smoke detector batteries.  Carbon monoxide detectors are also available for motor homes, campers, and enclosed areas of boats. 

Carbon Monoxide Detector PlacementCredit: Kidde Inc.

 Home appliances like furnaces, water-heaters or any device which uses combustion or has a flame should be checked and serviced by a qualified technician annually.   Also ensure that all gas appliances are vented properly so that CO will not build up in your dwelling.  Use portable gas or chemical heaters in well ventilated areas while someone is there to monitor them.  Be aware of any odors gas appliances may have.  Even though CO is odorless and colorless, there may be a defect in the appliance and could be giving off CO.  Purchase only equipment that has the seal of a national testing agency, such as the CSA Group.  Use gas appliances as recommended. 

Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace unless it is properly vented.  Have fireplace or furnace chimneys checked and cleaned regularly to clear blocked debris.  Ask professionals to patch any holes or leaks in vent pipes.  Indoor pipes should also never be perfectly level.  They should go up slightly as they go outdoors. 

Keep your vehicle in good working order by having a mechanic check the exhaust system every year.  Never run a vehicle in the garage with the door shut.  Carbon monoxide can build up quickly while it is running.  If a vehicle is driven with a tailgate down, make sure windows are open to ensure air is moving through the vehicle.  Exhaust can be pulled into a vehicle if only the tailgate is down.

When the power is out, it is important to use special precautions when heating the house or cooking.   Never use a gas range, camp stove or oven for heating.  The CO fumes will come out into the house and not use the proper venting.  Don’t use a charcoal or gas grill indoors.  And, never use a gas powered generator inside your home or near an open door or window. 

If escaping from a house fire, get low to the floor and crawl on your hands and knees to safety.  Cover mouth and nose with your hand or an article of clothing or towel.  If possible, dampen the fabric with water for further protection.

Carbon monoxide is an invisible threat.  It’s important to know the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and how to prevent exposure.  If you suspect you may have Carbon monoxide poisoning, consult a medical expert immediately.  If the exposure has occurred in your home, it is critical to identify the source and perform any necessary repairs or removals.  Your local fire department or utility company may be able to help. 

Please do not take Carbon Monoxide Poisoning lightly.  This can be a life threatening issue and you should always seek professional medical advice immediately if you feel you may have been exposed and my have carbon monoxide exposure symptoms.

Here is an example of a very economical carbon monoxide detector that is easy to install and affordable to buy.  This was a life changing purchase for an actual user as the following real life review (from an amazon purchaser) describes.

Kidde KN-COSM-B Battery-Operated Combination Carbon Monoxide and Smoke Alarm with Talking Alarm


Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Prevention