Uncovering the Hidden Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

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Carbon monoxide (CO) is perhaps the most dangerous gas that can enter your home. It’s colorless, odorless and otherwise imperceptible without a carbon monoxide detector. Even low concentrations can be enough to cause a negative health impact, especially on those with chronic illnesses, the elderly, young children and pregnant women. High-level exposure can cause permanent damage or even death in a very short period of time.

Here’s what you need to know about the hidden dangers of carbon monoxide in your home and how to protect you and your family.

Symptoms of CO Exposure

When you develop certain symptoms from overexposure to CO gas, your condition is called carbon monoxide poisoning. Every year in the US, 8,000 to 15,000 patients are admitted to the hospital for treatment of non-fire related carbon monoxide poisoning. Sadly, an estimated 500 people die each year in the US from accidental exposure to high levels of CO gas.

However, while death is a serious concern, low concentrations of carbon monoxide are also dangerous because they can cause short-term symptoms and even lead to long-term health problems you may not associate with carbon monoxide exposure.

Common short-term symptoms of CO poisoning mimic many signs of the flu, including:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Sore throat

More serious symptoms from exposure to higher concentrations of carbon monoxide include:

  • Confusion
  • Irritability
  • Impaired judgment and coordination
  • Memory loss
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Sensitivity to light, sound and odors
  • Loss of consciousness leading to death

The long-term effects of low-level carbon monoxide exposure vary greatly in type and severity. Some illnesses and other conditions that may develop include:

  • Pains and cramps
  • Digestive, vision or cardiac problems
  • Sensations of pins and needles
  • Emotional instability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Depression
  • Hallucinations
  • Hearing loss

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

If CO poisoning is such a threat, why are appliances that can potentially leak this harmful gas kept inside the home? The fact is all combustion appliances (those that burn natural gas, oil, coal, charcoal, propane or wood) produce carbon monoxide. We need these appliances to cook food, heat our homes and perform other tasks. They include:

  • Gas furnaces, boilers and water heaters
  • Fireplaces
  • Gas ovens and stoves
  • Gas and kerosene space heaters
  • Generators
  • Lawn mowers
  • Camping stoves
  • Cars, boats and other engines

Under normal circumstances, combustion appliances are either safely vented to the exterior or used outside to begin with so carbon monoxide can dissipate harmlessly into the air. Any unvented appliances that produce carbon monoxide should never be used indoors. Even a car idling in a closed garage or a generator used inside can produce lethal levels of carbon monoxide within 10 minutes.

Protect Your Family: Install Carbon Monoxide Detectors

You can ensure combustion appliances vent outside safely and only use unvented appliances outdoors, but you never know if a leak might develop. That’s why you should install carbon monoxide detectors. These devices sound an alarm when they sense an above-normal concentration of carbon monoxide.

Ideally, you should install one CO detector on every floor of your home, or at least one right outside each sleeping area and one on the same floor as your gas furnace and water heater. The best location is on or near the ceiling since carbon monoxide tends to rise with the hot air that contains it. Follow the manufacturer’s installation instructions and make note of the suggested replacement date.

If you need carbon monoxide detectors installed or old devices replaced, please contact Mr. Electric®. We can help you select the proper alarm and ensure ideal installation locations for your family’s safety.