Carbon Monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced whenever a fuel source (such as gasoline, oil, kerosene, wood or charcoal) burns. If there is too much CO in the air we breathe, red blood cells accept it as a replacement for oxygen – resulting in tissue damage and possibly death.
Initial symptoms of CO poisoning are similar to those associated with the flu or common cold. At low levels, symptoms include headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, chest pain and confusion. However, high levels of CO intake can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unborn babies, infants, those with anemia, heart disease or respiratory problems, and pets are most susceptible to the harmful effects of CO poisoning.
If you are indoors and experience any of the symptoms related to CO poisoning, go outside and get fresh air immediately. This is especially true if more than one person is experiencing these symptoms. After breathing fresh air, go to the nearest emergency room and alert them that you suspect CO poisoning so that a blood test can be completed soon after the exposure.
Although you cannot detect too much CO in your home or office without a monitor, there are things you can do to help prevent the build-up of the gas. Before using fuel-burning appliances and home chimneys or furnaces, have them inspected by a trained professional each season. It is also necessary to vent appliance fumes outside the home and turn off space heaters before you leave the room or go to bed. As all types of charcoal give off CO, it is never advisable to burn charcoal indoors or in a fireplace.