Carbon monoxide is an odorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when the gas mixes and binds with hemoglobin in the blood, causing less oxygen to be transported to tissues and vital organs, such as the brain and heart.
The gas is more prevalent in the winter, when heating systems and fireplaces are used more often.
“The ways I know to be concerned with carbon monoxide is, No. 1, winter, and when an entire family comes in with headaches and dizziness, you start to wonder,” ER physician Dr. Travis Stork says. “These flu-like symptoms, without any of the typical fevers, are really concerning.”
Symptoms often mimic those of the flu. As the level of poisoning rises, the symptoms become more extreme:
- 20-30 percent: Headache
- 40-50 percent: Dizziness and nausea
- 50-60 percent: Fainting
- 60-70 percent: Coma
- 70 percent and higher: Death
To prevent possible carbon monoxide poisoning, install battery-operated carbon monoxide detectors in your home and be sure to change the batteries every year. Keeping your chimney and fireplace clean and having your heating system, water heaters and other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances checked often can keep you safe, as well.
“Without a detection system, you will have no idea that you are exposed to a potentially deadly gas,” Dr. Travis adds.
Learn more about fire dangers at home.