Carbon Monoxide (CO): The Silent Home Killer

It’s often called the “silent killer.” Carbon Monoxide’s nickname is well-earned. It invades your home like an invisible man. You can’t see it, feel it, hear it or smell it.

CO is the No. 1 cause of accidental poisoning in the United States. The Journal of the American Medical Association reports carbon monoxide kills 450 people each year and is responsible for 20,000 emergency room visits.

And CO is never more deadly than during the heart of winter. Two-fifths of accidental carmon monoxide poisonings occur between December and February.

This odorless, colorless gas is created when common fuels like gasoline, wood, coal, natural gas, propane, oil and methane burn incompletely. And in America’s homes, the kitchen can be Ground Zero for carbon monoxide to swell, spread and put your family’s health in immediate and serious danger. Plus, alternative heating sources like generators can be unsuspecting sources for CO.

“During the winter months, many families turn to heating sources they might not use at other times of the year,” said Deborah Hanson, director of external affairs for First Alert, a home safety company. “While these heating sources may be effective at providing warmth, they also can pose great risks if not used properly. To help protect loved ones from the dangers of CO poisoning, it is important for homeowners to take proper precautions when dealing with any kind of fuel-burning heat source.”

A home’s Number 1 defense against CO is a CO alarm. The National Fire Prevention Association recommends CO alarms be installed in a central location outside every sleeping area in a home and on every level. CO alarms should all be interconnected so when one sounds, they all sound. Check the manufacturer’s instructions for proper placement and mounting height.

The Kitchen: CO Central

One of the most frequent sources of home CO poisoning, the kitchen can easily become a CO danger zone during cold months. Heating and cooking equipment can burn fuel that ignite sources of carbon monoxide without the cook every suspecting.

The first rule to remember to prevent your kitchen from being a CO hot zone is never use your oven to heat your home. Also, run kitchen vents or exhaust fans every time you use your stove.

When cooking during winter, open a nearby window periodically to allow fresh air to circulate through the kitchen.

In home CO prevention, knowing which heating devices that can inflame CO levels in your home is essential. Few heating devices are more lethal CO conduits than generators. Never use generators indoors. Using generators in a confined, enclosed area can allow CO to collect. In case of a power outage, use portable electrical generators outside with a cord and follow the operating instructions to a T.

Other heat-burning devices to avoid using indoors include charcoal grills and camp stoves.

CO Safety

Have your home’s fireplaces and fuel-burning appliances like furnaces, stoves, clothes dryers, water heaters and space heaters professionally inspected annually to detect any CO leaks.

Be mindful of how long you warm up your call in the garage, even if the door is open. CO can quickly leak into the home.

The Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Since it’s odorless, colorless and almost undetectable to human senses, CO exposure often sneaks up on people. Older people, pregnant mothers, young children and people with heart and young problems are most at risk. Knowing the symptoms of CO exposure is essential to realizing if someone has CO poisoning.

Headaches, dizziness, weakness, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, sleepiness and confusion are telltale indicators of CO poisoning. CO symptom severity is related to both home CO levels and the duration of exposure. High level CO poisoning will produce more severe symptoms, including mental confusion, vomiting, loss of muscular coordination, loss of consciousness, and ultimately, death.

Quick CO poisoning symptom recognition and identification is key. An important thing for home occupants and physicians to remember is not to mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu. Any extended delay in treatment for high level CO poisoning, which can lead to death in mere minutes.

Other things to keep in mind to keep your home and family safe from CO:

  • Know your local fire department’s non-emergency number to learn what number to call if the CO alarm sounds. Test CO alarms once a month, check for low batteries and replace alarms according to manufacturer’s instructions.
  • If your CO alarm sounds, immediately seek a fresh air location outdoors, or by an open window or door. Make sure everyone in your home is accounted for and get everyone outside. Remain there until emergency personal arrive.
  • Do not run a vehicle or other fueled engine or motor indoors after a CO alarm sounds. Move your vehicles from your garage to outside immediately after starting it.

Home CO poisoning can be a lethal, undetectable threat to you and your family’s safety. But smart prevention measures can keep CO poisoning from sneaking up on you and your family.

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