Why do you need a carbon monoxide detector?

According to the Centers for Disease Control, carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is the cause of more than 50,000 emergency room visits, and more than 400 deaths each year.

In 2018, carbon monoxide poisoning sent 176 people to Utah emergency rooms and killed four, according to the Univeristy of Utah.

Statistically, Americans over the age of 65 are the most likely to die from carbon monoxide poisoning. And winter is the time of year when the majority of carbon monoxide poisonings take place. This is due to the fact that heating systems that create CO are often in use. 

What is carbon monoxide and where does it come from?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas. It’s produced when fossil fuels like gasoline, natural gas or kerosene aren’t completely burned in appliances like heaters or engines.

Cars are the most common source of carbon monoxide. But boat engines, portable generators, gas ranges, furnaces, camp stoves, and lanterns can also produce CO.

As a result, when these devices are used in areas without proper ventilation, dangerous amounts of carbon monoxide can build up, and have serious health impacts.

In addition, during a house fire, dangerous levels of CO can build up inside the home and disable or even kill occupants before they can escape the flames.

How to recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide builds up inside the blood and attaches to blood cells, blocking oxygen. This, in turn, causes asphyxiation and over time, death.

Because carbon monoxide is odorless and colorless, the only way to detect it, is with a carbon monoxide detector. As a result, without a CO detector, it’s important to be able to recognize the symptoms of CO poisoning.

While no one is immune to carbon monoxide poisoning, unborn babies, infants, the elderly, and those with respiratory problems like asthma are particularly at risk.

If you notice these symptoms in yourself or anyone else, seek immediate medical help.

The most common signs of carbon monoxide poisoning are:

  • Persistent, severe headaches and dizziness (usually affecting more than one person in an enclosed area)
  • Nausea, vomiting, and fatigue
  • The disappearance of symptoms when individuals leave the enclosed area

If you suspect the presence of carbon monoxide is causing these symptoms, evacuate the home and call the Utah Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 or 911. 

How to prevent CO poisoning in your home

Carbon monoxide poisoning can be avoided by adopting some simple measures and the application of common sense. Most fire-related carbon monoxide poisoning can be prevented by the proper installation and maintenance of smoke detectors.

 Here are some additional safety tips for avoiding CO poisoning provided by the University of Utah:

  • Have your heating system, water heater, gas range and any other fuel-burning appliances inspected by a licensed technician every year.
  • Install Underwriters Laboratory approved carbon monoxide detectors throughout your home. A high percentage of people who die from CO poisoning, do so in their sleep, so it’s important to have detectors in or near your home’s bedrooms.
  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in RVs and boats with propane stoves or heaters.
  • Avoid swimming or lingering in areas near the engines of a boat or near the exhaust of an RV generator.
  • Test and check or replace the batteries inside your carbon monoxide detectors twice a year.
  • Inspect your home after heavy snowfalls to ensure snow hasn’t built up around exhaust vents and fresh air intakes.
  • If your carbon monoxide detector repeatedly sounds an alarm and you suspect the presence of CO is the cause, evacuate the home and call 911 or your local natural gas company.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you experience the symptoms of CO poisoning and suspect carbon monoxide is the cause.
  • Avoid the use of generators, grills, camp stoves, or other fuel-burning devices inside or near the windows of your home.
  • Do not heat your home with the oven.
  • You should never burn anything in an unvented or blocked fireplace or stove.
  • Do not run an automobile inside your garage, even with the door open.

Knowledge of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning and an awareness of the dangers of this colorless and odorless gas are the keys to avoiding CO poisoning. Awareness coupled with a quick response could save your life.