If you have a furnace that uses natural gas or oil to heat your home, you need to be aware of the risk of carbon monoxide within your home. Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, tasteless gas. It is commonly referred to as the silent killer because people are unaware they have been exposed to CO gas.
CO is found in both indoor and outdoor air. It is a naturally occurring gas that cannot be fully eliminated from our environment. However, we can take certain precautions to avoid accidental carbon monoxide poisoning and the potential of dying from overexposure.
How Is Carbon Monoxide Created?
CO gas is created as a by-product of burning various forms of fuel. Fuel can refer to:
- Natural Gas
Aside from fuel, carbon monoxide is also created when using various forms of tobacco products like cigars and cigarettes.
As the fuel burns, it uses oxygen to feed the flame and releases CO gas into the air. Exposure to small levels of CO gas is normal and does not present any risks. It is when the level of CO gas becomes significantly higher that one needs to be concerned about their health and well-being.
What Are Some Sources of Carbon Monoxide in the Home?
Besides your furnace, any appliance that uses natural gas, like your water heater, stove, and dryer, creates and releases CO gas. In addition, if you have a wood-burning or pellet fireplace or stove, carbon monoxide is created as the wood or pellets are burned and release heat.
In your garage, you will also find lawn mowers, portable generators, automobiles, snow blowers, jet skis, snowmobiles, boats, pressure washers, chain saws, and weed trimmers are all potential sources of CO gas.
How Does Carbon Monoxide Kill People?
As CO gas is released into the air, we breathe it in. The molecules in the CO gas attach to hemoglobin (blood) cells within the body that normally transport oxygen molecules throughout the body. When CO gas molecules attach to the blood cells, the levels of oxygen in the body start to decrease.
When exposure to CO gas is for a short period and of a small amount, the gas leaves the body when we exhale and draw in fresh air. Sometimes a person might notice a “head rush” or feel dizzy for a little bit after exposure to CO gas as it is leaving the body and oxygen levels have stabilized. Even though most people are fine, there are some people who are more sensitive to CO gas, even at low levels, like infants and the elderly.
As levels of CO gas gradually start to increase, a person often experiences cold and flu-like symptoms such as:
- Respiratory Problems
- Tightness in the Chest
In cases where the exposure to CO gas is for longer periods of time and a larger amount, the symptoms start to become more pronounced. A person could start to notice a loss of muscle/motor control, dizziness that won’t go away, visual problems, increased heart rate, confusion, redness of the skin, and behavior changes like not being able to think clearly.
What is happening is the body is slowly suffocating to death since it is not getting the oxygen it needs. Eventually, a person will start to feel groggy and sleepy. If they do not leave the area of exposure, they will fall asleep. Once asleep, the person continues to breathe in CO gas until their body is fully depleted of oxygen and they have suffocated.
How Can I Tell if Carbon Monoxide Is Poisoning Me and My Family?
One way to tell CO gas could be poisoning and your family and you is if you start to notice any of the symptoms previously mentioned. If everyone in your family all of sudden has cold and flu-like symptoms, chances are it is CO poisoning. Colds and the flu take several days to spread around and infect others in the home, so the entire family will not get “sick” at the same time.
Another way to tell CO gas could be a problem in your home is if the symptoms go away when you leave the home. If you feel fine at work all day or while out running errands, but then notice you get a headache right after returning home, it could be CO poisoning.
How Can I Tell if Carbon Monoxide Levels Are Too High?
The best way to know how much CO gas is in your home is with a carbon monoxide alarm. You can get carbon monoxide alarms installed by your local electrician or heating and air conditioning repair service company.