Carbon monoxide is extremely hazardous to human life. It is a colorless, odorless gas that is present in a number of contexts, from automotive exhaust to any form of combustion produced in charcoal- or gas-burning cooking appliances. This article will help you to spot some of the early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning before it reaches fatal levels. Because the gas can build up in an enclosed or poorly ventilated space, having detectors in your home, along with smoke detectors, can be a part of lifesaving precautions.

Common Symptoms of CO Poisoning

We often think that we’ll be able to smell a gas leak, and so, incorrectly believe that our sense of smell will alert us to carbon monoxide in our homes or businesses. Gas companies often introduce impurities to their fuel, which gives a distinct odor to the otherwise odorless gas we use for heating and cooking. This is an intentional safety precaution. Because carbon monoxide is not a fuel product, but a byproduct created by combustion, no such precaution is possible.

In order to determine whether you, your family, and even your pets are suffering from the effects of exposure, you must know the symptoms. These include:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache, mild to severe depending on sensitivity and level of exposure
  • Weakness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of consciousness that can lead to death.

Because these symptoms mimic those of common illnesses, having a detector or detectors in your home can save lives. It has been noted that deaths frequently occur when victims are sleeping or intoxicated. While their unconsciousness is a large factor in this, patterns of respiration deepen when we sleep or are under the influence of drugs and alcohol. This leads to rapid inhalation of the deadly gas, and death will often occur without symptoms being noted.

What Happens When CO is Inhaled?

When there are large amounts of CO present in the air, all living things are sensitive to it. Red blood cells bond with CO more readily than oxygen, and excessive amounts of carbon monoxide can actually saturate blood, blocking the uptake of oxygen entirely. Essentially, animals and humans exposed will die of suffocation if the problem is not immediately remedied.

Signs of a Possible CO Problem

Below is a list of possible indicators of a CO problem in the home or business. The areas mentioned should be monitored seasonally to prevent buildup of the gas.

  • Soot around appliances
  • No updraft in a chimney
  • Collection of moisture or rusting on surfaces
  • Smoky smells and orange or yellow flames in combustion appliances
  • Small amount of water leaking from chimney vent or flue pipe
  • Fallen soot in fireplace.

There are a number of ways to be vigilant against CO buildup. However, your best defense beyond these measures is to install and maintain CO sensors around your home or business. These are available for purchase in a variety of models suitable for homes, businesses, and other work spaces where the danger may be present, such as garages.

Sources Cited:
http://www.health.state.mn.us/divs/eh/indoorair/co/
http://www.cdc.gov/co/faqs.htm