Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas that can poison people within a matter of minutes. It’s hard to detect because it doesn’t cause any symptoms initially. This type of flammable gas forms when carbon atoms do not fully combust. It occurs most frequently in the internal combustion system of vehicles as well as ovens and furnaces. When fumes leak into a home or garage, people inside can become ill or even die as a result of inhaling them. Carbon monoxide detectors warn people of unsafe levels of the poisonous gas that they can neither see nor smell.
The Effect of Carbon Monoxide on the Body
When a person inhales carbon monoxide, it clings to the blood and takes the place of oxygen. This action prevents the oxygen from binding to the body’s hemoglobin, which places all of the internal organs in immediate danger. If the person accidentally inhales carbon monoxide and remains in its path, he or she can lose consciousness within a matter of minutes, which can cause death or permanent impairment of the internal organs. Fortunately, the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning are reversible if the person makes it out of the house quickly.
Common Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
The physical effects of carbon monoxide poisoning range from mildly annoying to life-threatening. The two factors that most influence the severity of symptoms are the length of exposure and concentration of carbon monoxide in the air. For example, exposure to 50 parts per million (PPM) over a period of several hours may cause a headache and mild dizziness. When that amount increases to nearly 13,000 PPM, death can occur in under three minutes.
Typical symptoms associated with carbon monoxide poisoning include the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Chest pain
- Flu-like symptoms
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of muscle control
- Memory problems
- Shortness of breath
Because these symptoms are also present in other types of illnesses, most homeowners are unaware that they are experiencing the effects of carbon monoxide poisoning. They end up losing precious time waiting for the symptoms to pass that puts them in even greater danger. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 430 people die each year due to accidental poisoning from carbon dioxide. More deaths occur in the fall and winter due to the use of gas furnaces, heaters, and generators. Men and people over age 65 are the most frequent victims of carbon monoxide poisoning.
Reducing Your Risk of a Carbon Dioxide Leak
Routine maintenance of equipment that produces carbon dioxide is essential to prevent illness or tragedy. These may include cars and trucks, wood-burning stoves, gas furnaces, electric generators, equipment powered by propane, and space heaters. The start of the fall season is an ideal time to perform this maintenance since many of the items sit idle during the warmer months. Be certain to keep your chimney clean as well. Using common sense, such as not leaving a vehicle running in a closed garage or avoiding the use of charcoal grills indoors, also goes a long way towards keeping homeowners safe.
Making a minimal investment in a carbon monoxide detector provides homeowners with valuable peace of mind. When the unit detects abnormal levels of carbon monoxide in the air, it sounds an alarm to alert the inhabitants of the danger. This noise gives them time to get outside and call for help before anyone suffers the symptoms listed above.