Who is at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning?
Everyone is at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. Medical experts believe, however, that individuals with greater oxygen requirements such as unborn babies, infants, children, senior citizens and people with coronary or respiratory problems are at greater risk.
What makes carbon monoxide so dangerous?
The great danger of carbon monoxide is its attraction to hemoglobin in the bloodstream. When inhaled, carbon monoxide bonds with hemoglobin in the blood, displacing the oxygen which cells need to function. When CO is present in the air, it rapidly accumulates in the blood, forming a toxic compound known as carboxyhemoglobin (COHb).
Carboxyhemoglobin causes symptoms similar to the flu, such as headaches, fatigue, nausea, dizzy spells, confusion and irritability. As levels of COHb increase, vomiting, loss of consciousness and eventually brain damage or death can result.*
Where does carbon monoxide come from?
Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion, present whenever fuel is burned. It is produced by common home appliances such as gas or oil furnaces, clothes dryers, ranges, ovens, water heaters or unvented space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills and wood burning stoves.
Fumes from automobiles also contain carbon monoxide and can enter a home through walls or doorways if a car is left running in an attached garage.
All of these sources can contribute to a CO problem in the home. If a home is vented properly and is free from appliance malfunctions, air pressure fluctuations or airway, venting or chimney blockages, carbon monoxide will most likely be safely vented to the outside.
Energy efficient insulation, meant to keep warm air in during winter months and cool air in during summer months, could also cause carbon monoxide to be trapped inside. Furnace heat exchangers can crack; vents and chimneys can become blocked, disconnected or corroded. Inadequate air supply for combustion appliances can cause conditions known as "downdrafting" or "reverse stacking", which force CO contaminated air back into the home.
How can I guard my family from carbon monoxide poisoning?
The Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) [Disclaimer] recommends installing at least one carbon monoxide detector with an audible alarm near the sleeping area. A detector on every level and in every bedroom provides extra protection. Remember, a carbon monoxide detector is a purchase that could help save your life.
Select an Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. [Disclaimer] listed detector. For an extra margin of safety, chose a self-powered, extra sensitive unit that responds to lower levels of carbon monoxide and protects even during a power outage.
In addition to installing carbon monoxide detectors, have a qualified professional check all fuel burning appliances, furnaces, venting and chimney systems at least once a year or as recommended by the manufacturer.
What do I do if my Carbon Monoxide detector alarms?