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Carbon Monoxide Alarms: A Guide to Carbon Monoxide Safety

Unlike carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide is simply made up of a single atom of carbon attached to a single atom of oxygen. Even though it is only different by one oxygen atom, carbon monoxide is an extremely dangerous gas. It is a little heavier than regular air. In nature, it is normally only produced in very small amounts. In these quantities, carbon monoxide is not harmful to living creatures. Since carbon monoxide does not feature any noticeable smell, color, or taste, humans cannot notice it at all. Carbon monoxide results in numerous deaths and illness each year in the United States. It is crucial to know how to prevent it and treat it.

Why is Carbon Monoxide Dangerous?

Humans and animals need oxygen to breathe. When they inhale carbon monoxide instead, it can be fatal because the CO atoms attach themselves to our hemoglobin, instead of oxygen. This greatly reduces the amount of oxygen that is delivered to the blood stream. When the oxygen is cut off, it causes severe damage to the person's muscles and tissues, eventually resulting in death.

Causes of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is most usually caused when fuels combust. In normal fuel combustion, carbon dioxide is produced when the oxygen levels are normal. However, if there is less oxygen, the atoms form with only one oxygen atom instead of two: carbon monoxide. This is especially common in closed areas without a steady supply of fresh air. Some of the most common causes of carbon monoxide are:

  • Indoor fireplaces
  • Generators
  • Ovens, stoves, and furnaces
  • Gas or charcoal grills
  • Water heaters
  • Other flame-producing sources

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Symptoms

Since carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms are somewhat similar to a number of other general illnesses, it is initially difficult to pinpoint it. If someone is unconscious due to alcohol intoxication or fast asleep, they may not even know of their symptoms. The most common symptoms are:

  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Trouble with balance and coordination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Breathing difficulties or chest pains
  • Confusion, agitation, or depression
  • Memory loss
  • Hallucinations
  • Seizures
  • Fainting

Long term exposure can also progress to loss of consciousness, and then death. Carbon monoxide poisoning can progress to a lethal amount in as little as ten minutes in a small room. Here is how to differentiate between carbon monoxide poisoning and flu:

  • Other people present experience the same symptoms immediately
  • Fever and swollen glands are not present.
  • Pets or infants may display the symptoms earlier than adults.
  • People who stay indoors feel worse.
  • Members who head outdoors feel better.
  • The symptoms start soon after burning a flame-producing source.

How to Treat Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The first thing to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning is to go outdoors, along with anyone else (including pets) who was in the house. If they can, try to open the windows. Call 911 and inform them of the problem. State that you may also need medical help. If someone has lost consciousness, take them outside as well. The medics will perform CPR and use oxygen masks on them.

Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The first step to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide detector. Check that the batteries are good and that the device is functioning. It is best to keep one detector on each level of the house, especially near kitchens, fireplaces, and bedrooms. Apart from these, do regular checks on fuel-burning machines to ensure that they do not leak or that they are not broken or blocked. Do not leave them burning while you sleep. It is generally better to have a professional inspect them.

Further Resources



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