Posted on: March 28, 2017 at 11:53 am
Last updated: October 5, 2018 at 11:09 am

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning 101

Many of us have heard of carbon monoxide poisoning. Maybe you even know someone who it has happened to. This gas is dangerous for a variety of reasons—it can quickly kill with little to no warning about what’s going on.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is easy and can save your life. By knowing the causes, symptoms, and prevention techniques, you can effectively avoid major bodily harm or even death from this gas.

Here’s your guide to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning in your home!

What is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that typically has no presence other than its debilitating effects on your body. It has no color, no odor, and no taste. It’s toxic in certain concentrations, with the higher the concentration being the more toxic.


At times, carbon monoxide can be mixed with other gasses that have a smell. At these points, you may be able to detect it. However, it’s important to not rely on your sense of smell to detect carbon monoxide. Too often, it’s lethal without any smell [1].

Causes of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Knowing the sources of carbon monoxide can help you to be more aware of potential carbon monoxide leaks in your home.

The potential sources include:

  • Refrigerators
  • Gas stoves
  • Chimneys
  • Portable grills
  • Dryers
  • Portable heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Water heaters

Carbon monoxide results from any burning of fuel, particularly of any material containing carbon. This means it could result from burning gas, kerosene, oil, propane, coal, or wood [2].

Although you may not smell anything, you could also smell a distinctive sulfur or rotten egg smell along with a whistling that could indicate a problem.

Carbon Monoxide Symptoms

Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen over time if you have a slow leak, so it’s especially important to recognize any recurring symptoms without explanation. However, carbon monoxide can also spring from a major leak and become deadly within minutes.

Knowing the carbon monoxide symptoms can help you get out of your home in the event that it happens so quickly you don’t know what’s happening. Carbon monoxide affects the oxygen in your blood, keeping it from getting to your major organs such as your brain and heart.

It does this by binding to your hemoglobin (which transports oxygen) to form a component called carboxyhemoglobin. The blood can’t carry this new component made from the oxygen and carbon monoxide, so your tissues start to die as a result from lack of oxygen [3].

Dense concentrations can be deadly in minutes—you’ll lose consciousness and then effectively suffocate. Carbon monoxide symptoms may vary widely, with old people and children being the most susceptible to poisoning. However, smokers, pregnant women, and people who have heart disease are more at risk. Even people at high altitudes are more susceptible [4].

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Lethargy or fatigue
  • Confusion, just feeling “off”
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Vomiting
  • Blurred vision
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest

You should particularly take note of these symptoms if they’re occurring in conjunction with one another, as well as if several family members are experiencing them. This could indicate either a slow or severe carbon monoxide leak and should be investigated immediately. Remember, you could have a small leak that’s causing these carbon monoxide symptoms over a period of time.

Although carbon monoxide can quickly kill, it can also leave you with permanent bodily damage even if you survive an exposure. Exposure to carbon monoxide can leave people with damage to the brain, heart, and other major organs.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

You can prevent carbon monoxide poisoning! Here’s how:

  1. Have a carbon monoxide detector and maintain it. Testing the alarm every month can let you know it works. Change batteries every six months.
  2. You can also check for humidity or dew. This includes moisture on the windows and walls, especially around appliances like a fridge or dryer. This could be indicative of a slow leak and can help stop a major leak from happening.
  3. Clean your fireplace and chimney. Wood burning stoves or fireplaces should be properly cleaned and leave the vent open to let gasses escape.
  4. Do not leave your car running in a garage. Keeping your car running in a garage can allow fumes to build up quickly, don’t do this even if it’s just for a few minutes or even if you have your garage door open [5]!

All of these practices can help you to avoid an exposure or leaks in your home.

What to Do If You’re Exposed


If you suspect a carbon monoxide exposure, you should immediately leave the house and follow these steps:

  • Get outside or to an area where there is clean, fresh air
  • Leave doors open as you exit
  • Call emergency services

Turn off the source if you know the source (for instance, a car in your garage) [6]. Otherwise, just get out! Do not waste time trying to find the source. You can quickly become confused or disoriented in a major leak. You may even lose consciousness and die before you can get out.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is no joke. Maintaining your home (or your rental) is vital for ensuring a leak won’t accidentally kill you in the middle of the night. Keep your chimney clean. Ask your landlord when the last time your heat source was serviced. Keep records of everything. Know the causes of a leak as well as the symptoms. If you suspect you’ve been exposed, get out!


Jenn Ryan
Health Expert
Jenn Ryan is a freelance writer and editor who's passionate about natural health, fitness, gluten-free, and animals. She loves running, reading, and playing with her four rescued rabbits.

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