Protect Yourself from the Silent Killer

We’ve already discussed how we can use the spring and fall time changes as cues for testing the smoke alarms in our homes. Daylight saving time ends this weekend, so it’s time to check these again. As we do, let’s consider another important safety device and the threat from which it can protect us.

Carbon monoxide, termed the “silent killer,” can harm you and your family without warning. Fortunately, you can protect your family with a few simple actions.

Carbon monoxide (CO), often referred to as the “silent killer,” can cause harm without any warning. Fortunately, we can effectively protect our families with a few simple actions.

CO detectors

CO is colorless and odorless. It is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels (e.g., coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, natural gas). Therefore, if you have any items in or near your home that could produce CO, it’s wise to have a CO detector. If your home is large, consider installing enough detectors that there is one in the hallway near every separate sleeping area.

Many people only associate CO with gas appliances. While CO can be produced by these, it can also be produced by equipment powered by internal combustion engines (e.g., cars, generators), barbeques, fireplaces, and wood burning stoves. Even if you don’t have gas appliances, it is wise to have a CO detector if you have one of these other potential CO sources.

Many state governments have laws requiring that CO detectors be installed in residences. As you can imagine, these laws are difficult to enforce. In fact, many homeowners are unaware of the requirements until they learn about them when trying to sell their homes.

Preventing CO poisoning

Even if you have a CO detector in your home, it’s best if it never has to sound. Here are some ways to prevent CO exposure.

  • Have gas, oil, and coal burning appliances installed by a professional. Have them serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • Do not use generators, barbeques, or camp stoves inside of your house (including in the garage) or near the windows to your home.
  • Avoid running a car or truck inside attached garages.
  • Only light fires in stoves and fireplaces that are vented. Have chimneys and flues checked annually for blockages, corrosion, and loose connections.
  • Do not try to heat your house with a gas oven or stove.

CO poisoning symptoms

What would happen if you were exposed to CO? The red blood cells in the body are able to pick up CO more quickly than they can pick up oxygen. As the amount of CO in the air rises, red blood cells begin carrying CO through the body instead of oxygen. Tissues in the body will eventually become damaged by the lack of oxygen and death will result. The following symptoms occur as the body is deprived of oxygen.

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Mental confusion
  • Loss of muscle coordination
  • Loss of consciousness and possible death

If you have a CO detector and it sounds, check to see if any member of your household is experiencing the symptoms of CO poisoning. If someone is, then seek medical attention. If no one is experiencing symptoms, ventilate your home with fresh air. Turn off all potential sources of CO and have a qualified technician inspect your appliances and chimneys to make sure they are functioning correctly. If you do not have a CO detector but begin experiencing the above symptoms, suspect the possibility of CO poisoning and seek medical attention.

For additional information, visit the websites of the CPSC and the CDC.

Do you have a carbon monoxide detector in your home? What other steps do you take to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning?

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  1. Good info. I didn’t know that some states have laws that require detectors. Is there a list somewhere of which states require them?

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