Carbon Monoxide Poisoning in the Home: Part 2

National Poison Prevention Week: March 20-26, 2022

What can we do to protect our families and pets from the “silent killer?”

Why is carbon monoxide so hazardous?

Natural and LP gas has a specific odor that alerts you of their presence. This feature is not true of carbon monoxide (CO). CO is a poisonous, flammable gas with no odor and color, making CO especially hazardous.

We can breathe in CO with no sense of odor or irritation to our nose or throats. When we inhale CO, our blood cells attach to CO molecules instead of oxygen molecules. This process starves our organs of the oxygen needed for continued survival, resulting in illness and death. Children and the elderly, as well as individuals with heart or respiratory conditions, are especially vulnerable to the effects of CO.

Protecting your family from carbon monoxide poisoning

Your first line of defense in alerting your family of unsafe CO levels is to install a carbon monoxide detector. It works like a smoke alarm. First, it samples the air in your home. Then, when levels of CO gas are detected, it creates a loud alarm.

If your CO alarm sounds, it’s important to evacuate your home immediately.

Check out your garage

  1. Never leave your car engine running in a closed garage. This rule is particularly true if your home has an attached garage.
  2. Never run lawnmowers or other gas-powered engines in closed garages or garden sheds.
  3. Do not use grills, kerosene heaters, or ovens to heat your garage.

Check out your car

  1. Even a minor “fender bender” can cause breaks in your car’s exhaust system. This leakage can allow CO to enter your car’s passenger area.
  2. If your car becomes stuck in the snow, you may decide to stay in it and keep warm while your engine runs. Be sure to keep the snow cleared away from your exhaust pipe if you do. A blocked exhaust pipe can lead to CO backing up and venting into your car’s interior.

Check out your home

  1. Install a battery-operated CO detector on each level of your home. Check operation monthly and change the batteries in each detector twice a year.
  2. Never use fuel-burning cooking devices to heat your home, such as ovens, grills, or camp stoves.
  3. Maintain heating and air conditioning systems with regular inspections. Most professional services conduct these checks before each change of season.
  4. Replace central heating and air conditioning units that are old or faulty with newer and improved models.
  5. Ensure those who install your heating and air conditioning system are trained professionals.

If you suspect that you or another person is suffering from potential CO effects, get the individual into fresh air immediately. Call 911 and seek emergency medical attention.

If you have any questions or concerns about carbon monoxide poisoning, call the Illinois Poison Center (24/7) at 1(800)222-1222 for information and treatment advice.

Adult Health Topics