What You Need to Know About Carbon Monoxide Poisoning


Carbon monoxide poisoning is one of the number one killers in the United States, with an average of 430 deaths a year. It’s an odorless, tasteless gas, making it a truly silent killer. Causes of CO poisoning range from defective equipment to carelessness (for example letting a car’s exhaust pipe get clogged with snow) to blatant misuse of heating or cooling equipment (for example, using a grill or generator indoors).

Symptoms of CO poisoning mimic that of the flu-headache, lethargy, nausea and general malaise. Irritability is also common. If you are in a car or building and experience these symptoms it is imperative that you get to fresh air immediately! Open windows, call 911 and evacuate at once. If CO poisoning continues, it will lead to unconsciousness and then death.

Many cities mandate that landlords must provide CO detectors by law, and homeowners should always have them as well. CO detection saves lives! You can usually find smoke detectors (another must!) with them built in. If you already have them, don’t forget to check the battery regularly, and if it goes off, don’t ignore it! Call 911 and your gas company immediately. It could just need a new battery or be signaling it’s at its end of life (detectors do have a finite life span) but it could also save your life. Recently in New York City 5 people had their lives saved because a CO detector went off! If you have a home security system, make sure it has CO detection, which will alert emergency personnel if you are unable to.

To prevent CO poisoning, have furnaces and gas pipes inspected regularly. Your utility company likely offers this service, and it should always be done each fall before you turn your heat on for the first time. Never ever use grill, camp stoves or generators indoors, and use care when using propane heaters or tools. In construction settings workers performing tasks that have a high risk of CO poisoning, such as welding, should be educated on the symptoms and wear a CO detector.

CO poisoning is a silent killer but with a little education and preparation, many tragedies can be avoided. Make sure you have a CO detector, follow directions when using equipment that generates gases, and have your furnace inspected regularly. These simple things can mean the difference between life and death.