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What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can kill. It is present in fumes produced when one burns fuel in stoves, lanterns, fireplaces, grills, furnaces, gas ranges, small engines, or vehicles. Carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to brain damage and even death; unfortunately, people cannot see it, taste it, or smell it. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, such as fatigue, nausea, and headaches, are often mistaken for the flu. Poisoning occurs when the gas builds up in a person’s bloodstream, thereby replacing the oxygen in the red blood cells. Carbon monoxide is such an insidious killer that people who are drunk or sleeping can die before they have symptoms. Other symptoms and signs of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
• Dizziness
• Weakness
• Shortness of breath
• Blurred vision
• Confusion
• Chest pain
• Loss of consciousness

Everyone is at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning; however, it is particularly dangerous for unborn babies, children, and the elderly. Since fetal blood cells absorb carbon monoxide more readily than adult blood cells do, unborn babies are more susceptible to poisoning. Young children are also susceptible because they take breaths much more frequently that adults do. Older adults are more likely to develop brain damage due to carbon monoxide exposure.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in your Home
• Install a battery back–up or battery–operated carbon monoxide detector.
• Have the water heater, heating system, and other coal, oil, or gas operated appliances and equipment serviced by a qualified and experienced HVAC technician annually.
• Avoid using portable flameless chemical heaters inside the house.
• Any strange odor from a gas refrigerator should be checked out by an expert.
• Only buy gas equipment carrying the seal of a reputable testing agency.
• Make sure all gas appliances are vented properly.
• Have the chimney inspected and checked every year.
• Never patch up a vent pipe with gum, tape, or something else.
• Avoid using the over or gas range for heating.
• Never burn charcoal indoors.
• Never use a generator inside the home garage, or basement.

Each year, hundreds of Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires, and more than 20,000 visit emergency rooms. People who notice symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning should go outside immediately and call for emergency medical help. Call us for all heating and air conditioning needs.

Debunking Carbon Monoxide Myths

Over the last several decades, we have all become aware of the dangers of carbon dioxide inside buildings. Yet, even though virtually all home have detectors installed that can sense high levels of this gas, carbon monoxide myths still persist, leading to potentially unsafe conditions.

The nature of this deadly gas, which is always present in the atmosphere in small amounts, can be severely misunderstood. For example, many individuals think you can smell and taste carbon monoxide, however, it is odorless, colorless and tasteless. When people indicate that they can smell it, what they are really smelling is the byproduct of a fuel that is burning, which can also produce a taste in the mouth.

Carbon monoxide is always present in the atmosphere, even though some people believe that it is only produced when fuel is burned in a furnace, fireplace or similar device. The human body needs a tiny amount of CO to function, is efficient at getting rid of some excess and even has the ability to function properly when there are higher concentrations of the gas during short durations in winter when buildings are closed tightly due to weather.

Many people also think that CO detectors are prone to giving false alarms. While that was true with the first generation of these devices, such is no longer the case. If your alarm goes off, call your local fire department and have them check the levels. Usually when this happens, something has occurred to spike the CO in your home and the reading will be normal when they arrive, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Never handle carbon monoxide emergencies and fire emergencies in the same manner. Fires happen quickly and double in size every 30 seconds. Although CO levels may seem to rise quickly, it’s usually something that happens slowly over time. Many detectors have a alert mode and a warning mode. With the former, a problem may be in the offing. Investigate and open windows. When the warning goes off, leave the house and call for help. Know the difference and realize that you are never able to detect carbon monoxide on your own.