Do You Know the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
What you don’t know about CO can kill you
Pop quiz: You’re sitting at home when you notice you have a dull headache. You suddenly start to feel dizzy, weak and nauseous. Do you close your eyes to take a nap — or would you recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and get out of the house ASAP?
If you’d recognize the symptoms you’re in the minority, according to a recent survey from Service Experts Heating and Air Conditioning. The survey found:
- About two-thirds of people surveyed said they didn’t know if they would recognize the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
- More than half of homeowners aren’t aware a clothes dryer can be a source of carbon monoxide, and a quarter of them didn’t know the fireplace also can be a source. (So can portable generators, hot water heaters , kerosene or gas space heaters and other appliances.)
- More than half didn’t know the best place to install a carbon monoxide detector.
- Over one-third of homeowners didn’t know if they have a carbon monoxide detector.
- More than half don’t get their furnace checked each year. An inspection can identify leaks and potential leaks.
What you don’t know about carbon monoxide can kill you.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can build up in the air if an appliance is leaking and poison the people and animals who breathe it. It’s found in the fumes produced when you burn gas, wood, propane, charcoal and other fuel in stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms
They’re often described as “flu-like” and include:
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
If you’re sleeping when you’re exposed to carbon monoxide, you could die from CO poisoning before you realize anything’s happening, which is why having CO detectors in your home is critical.
More than 400 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning (not linked to fires) in the United States each year — many of them in the winter months — the CDC says. More than 20,000 go to emergency rooms, and more than 4,000 are hospitalized.
If you think you’re suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, act right away. Turn off fuel-based appliances and get everyone out of the house. Call 911 or go to an emergency room and say you suspect CO poisoning.
Prevention at home
UL advises installing a UL-certified CO alarm outside each sleeping area and on every level of the home, including the basement. Avoid placing an alarm directly on top of or across from fuel-burning appliances, advises John Drengenberg, consumer safety director for UL. Test the alarms monthly and change the batteries twice a year when you change the clocks.
"A CO alarm should not be confused with a smoke alarm," says Drengenberg. "A smoke alarm tells you to get out immediately. A CO alarm warns of a potential poisoning risk, usually long before symptoms are apparent, which allows you adequate time to get help. You need both life-safety devices in your home."
In addition, have your fuel-burning appliances including your furnace, water heater and stove inspected and serviced by a professional once a year. Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year as well.
One final note: Never turn on your oven or gas range to heat your living space. If the power’s out and it’s too cold, seek shelter elsewhere.
Last year, New York enacted carbon monoxide alarm legislation that requires all commercial buildings (new and existing — including schools, offices and restaurants) with a potential CO source to install a CO alarm. By June 27, 2016, all such buildings must have CO detectors installed and operational.