Let's start with the most important reminder: smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms are not the same thing. One cannot do the job of the other. Every home needs both.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: The Dangers
Every year, emergency rooms treat several thousand people for carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. About 170 people die each year from it.
Carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, poisonous, and deadly. If there is a leak, you may not even know it. Especially at night when the household is sleeping, carbon monoxide poisoning can cause people to slip into unconsciousness and ultimately, death.
Carbon monoxide is produced by the incomplete burning of many different types of fuel, including coal, charcoal, wood, oil, propane, and natural gas.
You may be at risk for CO poisoning if your house has/uses any of the following:
- Natural gas
- Cars, lawn mowers, or power washers being run in an enclosed area
- Portable generators
- Malfunctioning furnaces, ranges, water heaters, or room heaters
- Charcoal burning in an enclosed area
A Word on Portable Generators
There is a drastic rise in CO poisoning deaths after natural disasters and power outages, when people are using portable generators inside their homes or in an enclosed area near their homes (such as a garage). When generators are left running in residential spaces, the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can come on quickly – even skipping past the initial, mild symptoms – causing mental confusion and loss of muscle control. If victims are not rescued right away, they will likely die.
Install a carbon monoxide alarm in or near your garage. Always make sure there is adequate ventilation when using generators. If you’re going to work on your car, pull it out of the garage.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: The Symptoms
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It’s hard to tell when carbon monoxide is filling the air. The only clues you’ll get are from symptoms. If you suspect CO poisoning, get outside to some fresh air right away!
Early symptoms include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, and dizziness. They may resemble the flu without the fever.
Severe, high-level symptoms include:
- Mental confusion
- Loss of muscular coordination
- Loss of consciousness
- Ultimately death
The amount and duration of CO exposure has an effect on how severe the symptoms are.
Installing the Carbon Monoxide Alarm
- Carbon monoxide alarms should be installed according to the manufacturer's instructions.
- Install one alarm in the hallway outside the bedrooms in each separate sleeping area of the home.
- CO alarms may be installed into a plug-in receptacle or high on the wall.
- Hard-wired or plug-in CO alarms should have battery backup.
- Avoid locations that are near heating vents or that can be covered by furniture or draperies. Don’t install CO alarms in kitchens or above fuel-burning appliances.