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Carbon Monoxide in the Home: Understanding Risks and Prevention

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, non-irritant, tasteless and toxic gas. It is produced by the incomplete combustion of carbonaceous fuels such as wood, petrol, coal, natural gas and kerosene. Carbon monoxide is not detectible by humans either by sight, taste or smell. It is only slightly soluble in water, blood serum and plasma; in the human body, it reacts with hemoglobin to form carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a silent but deadly gas that poses significant risks in homes. Understanding the sources of CO, recognizing the symptoms of poisoning, and knowing how to prevent exposure are crucial for keeping your family safe. During the winter season CO poisoning cases tend to increase. These are most often related to elevated indoor CO levels resulting from use of improperly vented space heaters and use of gas ranges to heat the house.

Sources of Carbon Monoxide in Homes

Several common household appliances can produce CO:

• Furnaces and Water Heaters: These are among the most common sources of CO in homes. They must be properly installed and regularly maintained to prevent CO leakage.

• Portable Generators: Often used during power outages, these can produce dangerous levels of CO if not operated correctly.

• Vehicles: Running a car or truck in an attached garage, even with the door open, can lead to CO build-up in the home.

Recognizing the Symptoms of CO Poisoning

The effects of CO exposure can vary greatly from person to person depending on age, overall health and the concentration and length of exposure. When people are exposed to CO gas, the CO molecules will displace the oxygen in their bodies and lead to poisoning. Identifying CO poisoning can be challenging because its symptoms often resemble those of other illnesses.

Key symptoms include:

• Headaches, weakness, and dizziness.

• Nausea, vomiting, and shortness of breath.

• Confusion, blurred vision, and loss of consciousness.

• In severe cases, it can cause brain damage, heart problems, and even death

%COHb Levels and Symptoms in Healthy Adults

Preventing CO Exposure

Prevention is the best strategy against CO poisoning. Some essential tips include:

1. Install CO Detectors: Place them near sleeping areas and check their batteries regularly.

2. Regular Maintenance: Have appliances like furnaces, water heaters, and chimneys inspected and serviced annually by a qualified technician.

3. Proper Ventilation: Ensure all fuel-burning appliances are vented outside. Never use devices like charcoal grills indoors.

4. Safe Operation of Vehicles and Generators: Never run vehicles in enclosed spaces and keep generators at least 20 feet away from your home.

5. Awareness and Quick Action: Be aware of the symptoms of CO poisoning.

If you suspect exposure, get fresh air immediately and seek medical attention.


Carbon monoxide is a dangerous yet preventable threat in homes. By understanding its sources, recognizing the symptoms, and following prevention tips, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from this invisible danger.

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