What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Woman suffering from headache

Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning can be a swift and silent killer. Learn the signs, symptoms, and common causes of carbon monoxide poisoning with help from the team at Aire Serv.

What Causes Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas released as a byproduct of combustion. This means that vehicles, gas-powered power tools and appliances like furnaces, clothes dryers and fireplaces can all be the source of a potentially lethal carbon monoxide leak.

If working properly, household appliances vent the carbon monoxide away from the house and its occupants. But if the appliances malfunction or if gas-powered tools like leaf blowers, grills and portable generators meant for outdoor use are used indoors, carbon monoxide poisoning can quickly result. Automobiles left running in the garage is another leading cause of CO poisoning, thanks to remote starters and keyless ignitions.

Common sources of household carbon monoxide leaks:

  • Gas-powered and wood-burning fireplaces
  • Water heaters
  • Wood-burning or pellet stoves
  • Portable generators
  • Gas-powered refrigerators (often found in RVs or trailers)
  • Kerosene lamps
  • Gas-powered stoves
  • Automobiles (vehicles accidentally left running in closed garages endanger occupants of the car, the garage, and also the home)

Does Carbon Monoxide Smell?

One of the chief reasons carbon monoxide is so dangerous is that it is odorless and colorless. The only way to detect carbon monoxide prior to the onset of symptoms of poisoning is by using a carbon monoxide detector.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

The first symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include dizziness, headache, confusion and weakness. Symptoms of continued exposure are sometimes described as “flu-like,” and include an upset stomach, chest pain, and vomiting. Carbon monoxide poisoning is very serious and can lead to death, this is especially true if individuals are asleep or impaired. It only takes a brief period for symptoms like weakness, headache and dizziness to set it in. If one or multiple people in your home or office notice these symptoms, evacuate the building and seek medical assistance.

If you suspect that you or someone you know is suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the home or business. Head outside and take in the fresh air. Call 911 immediately.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The most effective way to protect you and your family from carbon monoxide poisoning is to install carbon monoxide detectors and to test them frequently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that homeowners test and replace the batteries in their carbon monoxide detectors when the time changes in the spring and fall. They also recommend that homeowners install multiple carbon monoxide detectors in their home—one on each floor and one outside of all sleeping areas.

Homeowners can take additional steps to reduce their exposure to carbon monoxide, including:

  1. Properly venting large household appliances that rely on fuel for operation (gas-powered dryers, HVAC systems, etc.)
  2. Scheduling routine professional inspection and maintenance of items like furnaces, water heaters, and fireplaces.
  3. Backing cars out of the garage before warming them up. Do not warm up a car inside the garage! Modern, keyless cars are a new carbon monoxide hazard as well. The New York Times reports that there have been over 50 deaths across the United States and Canada due to motorists parking in their garages and then exiting the vehicle without having turned their car off. Vehicles in the garage have also been started remotely by accident, potentially by children playing with the remote starter or FOB. Carbon monoxide from a vehicle running in a garage will seep into a home, endangering all occupants.

Keep Your Family Safe with Help from Aire Serv

From indoor air quality services to a Total Comfort Furnace Tune-Up, Aire Serv is your source for HVAC maintenance and safety services. Breathe easy knowing our expert technicians have your back when it comes to air quality safety and gas furnace and water heater maintenance. Schedule an appointment online or find a location near you to get started.