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CO is a colorless, odorless gas made when fuel burns. Fuels include wood, gasoline, coal, natural gas, or kerosene. Breathing in carbon monoxide fumes prevents the body from using oxygen properly, which can harm the brain, heart, and other organs. People with health problems, such as heart and lung disease, are at greater risk for harm. Infants, children, pregnant women, and older adults are also at greater risk.
Most carbon monoxide exposures happen in the winter. The most common source of CO poisoning is unvented space heaters in the home. An unvented space heater uses combustible fuel and indoor air for the heating process. It vents the gases it makes into the room, instead of outdoors. A space heater that is not installed right or not working properly can release carbon monoxide and other toxic fumes into the room and use up much of the oxygen in the room.
Most space heaters use kerosene or natural gas for fuel. Newer models have oxygen sensors that shut off the heater when the oxygen level in the room falls below a certain level. Older models do not have this safety feature. Because of these safety problems, some states ban unvented space heaters.
Other common sources of carbon monoxide include the following:
These are the most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning:
The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning may look like other medical conditions or problems, including the flu or food poisoning. Always see your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
If your child or other family members have any symptoms of CO poisoning, stay calm but act quickly:
Your healthcare provider will determine further treatment for carbon monoxide exposure. Emergency medical treatment may include oxygen therapy.
Important steps to protect against carbon monoxide poisoning include:
Seek medical attention right away if you think you or a member of your family has carbon monoxide poisoning.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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