What you need to know about carbon monoxide in the home

Kimberly Bean
Kimberly Bean
Published on March 18, 2020

It’s no secret that the gorier the death, the more hyped the media story is likely to be.

But what we hear little about are the less dramatic, less clickbait-worthy ways that we can die. It’s sad because some — like carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning — are preventable with just a little knowledge.

Think CO poisoning isn’t common? Think again: It’s the leading cause of accidental poisonings in the U.S., according to the Journal of the American Medical Association.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) claim that CO poisoning is responsible for the deaths of more than 400 Americans and the medical treatment of an additional 50,000 each year. Half of these deaths, they say, happen between November and February.

What exactly is carbon monoxide?

Known as “the silent killer,” carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas which can cause sudden illness and death” and it is “produced anytime a fossil fuel is burned,” according to the CDC.

Sources of carbon monoxide in the home include:

  • Charcoal grills
  • Clothes dryers
  • Fireplaces, both gas and wood burning
  • Furnaces or boilers
  • Gas stoves and ovens
  • Lawn equipment
  • Motor vehicles
  • Portable generators
  • Power tools
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Water heaters
  • Wood stoves

Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

According to the Minnesota Department of Health, “Identifying CO poisoning can be difficult because the symptoms are similar to the flu … people will ignore early signs and eventually lose consciousness and be unable to escape to safety.”

Early symptoms include a mild headache and a feeling of breathlessness after moderate exercise. The difference between these symptoms and those of the flu include:

  • Symptoms ease when you are out of the house.
  • Symptoms are more pronounced in family members who spend the most amount of time in the home.
  • Pets may exhibit signs of illness.
  • Your symptoms do not include body aches, a fever, and other common flu symptoms.

Prevention of CO Poisoning

The CDC offers several tips to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Don’t use your gas oven for heating your home.
  • If you use your fireplace, have the chimney swept annually.
  • Don’t leave your car or motorcycle’s engine running in a closed garage.
  • Have your water heater and heating system checked annually.
  • Ensure that all rooms are ventilated adequately.
  • When using a generator, keep it at least 20 feet away from a vent, door, or window.
  • Install CO alarms in your home. The CDC recommends one in each bedroom and one on each floor of the home, including the basement. If the alarm sounds, leave the home immediately and call 911.

Learn more about carbon monoxide in the home and how to prevent poisoning at the CDC website.

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