Carbon monoxide is a common but unfortunate side effect of many fuel burning appliances but overexposure to it can be deadly. Because carbon monoxide cannot be seen or smelled by humans it is essential to be familiar with proper prevention techniques as well as the early symptoms of exposure.
Carbon monoxide is produced wherever fuels are burned to create energy or heat. This includes:
- Natural gas;
- Gasoline; and
Well-maintained appliances which are used properly create non-hazardous amounts of carbon monoxide but misuse or a lack of proper maintenance can create potentially dangerous situations. At high levels CO can kill a person within minutes and even at low levels it poses significant threats to foetuses, infants, elderly people, and those with anaemia, heart disease, or respiratory disease.
At the beginning of each heating season have all of your fuel-burning appliances inspected to ensure proper function. This includes:
- Oil and gas furnaces;
- Gas water heaters;
- Gas ranges or ovens;
- Gas dryers;
- Gas or kerosene space heaters;
- Fireplaces; and
- Wood stoves.
Buying a carbon monoxide detector is also a good idea but it is important to note that they are not as effective as smoke detectors. Although they are widely available, the technology is not yet perfected so don't let a CO detector lull you into a false sense of security: it is still essential to have your appliances properly inspected and maintained. Do some research before your purchase a detector and consider buying more than one type in order to be sure that they will properly trigger when CO levels are too high.
If your CO detector goes off, check to see if anyone is experiencing symptoms of CO poisoning and get them outside right away. If no one else is home or nobody is experiencing symptoms it is usually a good idea to ventilate your home with fresh air and turn off all potential sources. Have appliances inspected before using them again.
Some great ways to prevent CO poisoning include:
- Avoid using the gas oven to heat your home: it is not meant for continuous operation and CO can build up in your home.
- Never idle the car in the garage even with the door open.
- Never use a charcoal grill indoors.
- Never sleep in a room with a gas or kerosene heater which is not properly vented.
- Never use gasoline powered engines in enclosed spaces.
- Never ignore symptoms if more than one person is feeling them.
At moderate levels symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include:
- Severe headaches;
- Mental confusion;
- Fainting; and
- Potential death.
Even at low levels one may experience:
- Shortness of breath;
- Mild nausea;
- Mild headaches; and
- Potential long term effects.
If experiencing these symptoms it is important to get fresh air immediately. Open doors and windows and turn off combustion appliances and then seek medical attention.