What Are The Symptoms of CO (Carbon Monoxide) Poisoning?

"The Silent Killer"

Carbon Monoxide (CO) is nicknamed the silent killer. It is an odorless, colorless, tasteless, toxic gas; it is undetectable by human senses. If there is CO in the air you breathe, it will enter your blood system through your lungs, the same way oxygen does. The CO will then displace the oxygen in your blood, thus depriving your body of oxygen. When the carbon monoxide displaces enough oxygen in your blood, you will suffocate.

We are all at an increased risk of CO poisoning as cold weather approaches. Airtight homes and malfunctioning heating equipment can produce deadly concentrations of CO.

The symptoms are as follows:

1 - Long-term exposure to low concentrations: the gradual build up in the blood can cause flu-like symptoms: headaches, fatigue, drowsiness and nausea.

2 - Exposure to high concentrations: throbbing headaches, confusion, breathing difficulties, loss of consciousness, cardiac problems and/or death.

Because the symptoms of CO poisoning are so common they are often misdiagnosed. You should suspect poisoning:

- if more than one family member has the symptoms

- if you or family members feel the symptoms at home but recover when away from home

- illness in a pet preceding illness in a person my suggest CO poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a by-product of incomplete combustion. Any fuel-burning vehicle, appliance or tool not adequately vented or maintained can be a potential source of CO gas.

Fuel-burning equipment includes:

  • fuel fired furnaces
  • gas ranges/ovens
  • gas clothes dryers
  • charcoal grills
  • gas water heaters
  • wood burning fireplaces/stoves
  • vented/ventless gas fireplaces
  • gas powered lawnmowers/power tools
  • automobiles
  • gas fueled space heaters (kerosene or propane space heaters are prohibited in NYC)

Prevention is always the best way to be safe.

Prevent or minimize potential for exposure to CO gas by:

  • having home-heating systems/fuel-burning appliances, flues, and chimneys inspected, cleaned, tuned up annually by a qualified technician
  • do not idle cars inside the garage
  • during/after a snow storm, check to make sure vents for the gas dryer, stove, furnace, and fireplace are clear of snow accumulation
  • make visual inspections of your fuel burning appliances, e.g. hot water heater, gas dryer
  • do not burn charcoal indoors whether at home, in a cabin or a camper
  • do not operate gasoline powered engines, e.g. generators, power cutting saws, in confined areas (basements, garages)
  • never (but we do it anyway) use gas ovens/ranges to heat your home
  • finally, install a carbon monoxide detector alarm*/a properly working alarm will provide an early warning, before deadly gases build to dangerous levels

New York City law (effective November 2004) requires every dwelling unit, including one and two family homes and multiple dwellings, be equipped with carbon monoxide detector alarms. This law is known as Local Law #7 of 2004. It applies to both new and existing dwellings.

As a resident of NYC, I do have a CO alarm (see photo below). Recently, it went off with a startling blast, waking me at 3 a.m. I had no idea what it was! I now understand the need to advise people to be familiar with the sound - so you can recognize it immediately. Fortunately, it was only because my battery was dying. With my heart beating wildly I got up and changed the battery.

What should you do if your alarm goes off?

The FDNY (Fire Department of New York) advises you to:

STAY CALM! Usually activation of the alarm is not life threatening, but an early warning of a potential problem. The alarms are designed to sound before there is an immediate threat. The alarm will also sound if the battery is low (as in my case).

Familiarize yourself and family members with the sound patterns of the alarm:

- A LOW Battery or malfunction signal will be a SINGLE 'CHIRP' every 30-60 seconds. Some alarms may have a flashing red light labeled 'battery' or 'service'

- A CO ALARM will sound a PATTERN OF FOUR SHORT BEEPS EVERY 5 SECONDS. Also, there will be a red flashing light when CO is detected.

IF THE CO ALARM IS ACTIVATED:

  • silence it by pushing the reset/silence button
  • ventilate the space by opening windows
  • check others for flu-like symptoms
  • CALL 911/ EVACUATE TO A SAFE LOCATION

When calling 911 be prepared to provide:

  • your address/location
  • the CO level if your detector is equipped with a digital display
  • info if anyone is experiencing flu-like symptoms

If you are permitted to return to the home or space and the alarm is activated within 24 hours, call 911 again and evacuate. Contact a qualified technician to inspect all your fuel-burning equipment/appliances for causes of the malfunction.

Please, read all instructions that come with your CO alarm. Other household members should read the instructions as well.

In NYC the installation of the gas ventless/vent free fireplaces are illegal. These types of fireplaces are not vented to pipes or chimneys. The burned gases including carbon monoxide are put into circulation in the home.

Be safe!

See link below for information and smoke detectors:

Check your carbon monoxide alarm

test alarm/replace batteries 2x a year
test alarm/replace batteries 2x a year | Source

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Comments 15 comments

Shelby Ville 7 years ago

This is absolutely scary. People die all the time. Thanks for the symptom information. Maybe we can be prevent this.


BkCreative 7 years ago

This is the whole idea - to know the symptoms and not think you have the flu and go lay down.

Thank you for writing!


Mr Nice profile image

Mr Nice 7 years ago from North America

Very interesting I always have a Carbon monoxide detector for peace of mind even I live in apt bldg. It is a must for people who live in a house. I used to live in Bklyn at Ave J very close to Coneyisland. Very nice neighborhood.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Thank you Mr. Nice (Nice name) - this becomes such a serious issue every winter here in NY especially on Long Island. There have been a few disasters already on LI. Fortunately, in NYC, the law requires the installation of the alarms - it has helped.

Will check your hubs again.

Thanks!


DoodleLyn profile image

DoodleLyn 7 years ago from Upstate New York, USA

A very well-written hub, and good info to have with fall and winter approaching, and we will be staying indoors more. I was unaware of what the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are, but now I will be aware. We got the kids a CO detector when they moved into their new apartment, for peace of mind. Thanks, BK, for a great hub.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 7 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You're very welcome DoodleLynn!

When winter comes here in NY - the horror stories begin without fail. Fortunately, in NYC proper the law requires CO detectors in our buildings - in the hallways and apartments - or we would all be in trouble.

I wrote this hub last year to send to friends in private homes who have smoke alarms but never bothered to get the CO alarms.

Glad you wrote! And I will resend this hub to many people!


TheSablirab 6 years ago

Informative as always. I've always wanted to get a CO detector, but it's always one of those things in the back of my mind that I'll "get later". I remember seeing one when I was younger in a friends house and wondered why they had something like that. I know now!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

It's seems more and more people are getting these detectors and it's the law here in the City. I suppose with all the old stoves and plumbing and so on it's necessary. I'm glad you found the hub informative!


TheSablirab 6 years ago

I don't live in NYC, but my brother actually lives in NYC. Well, Brooklyn to be more precise and it makes me wonder if he has one in the apartment he is in. I live down in Raleigh, NC, so it makes me wonder if I should.


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Hey, I live in Brooklyn, NYC, too. I live in a condo and have to have one in the apt. and there is one in the hall - as well as fire alarms in both places. I'm glad.

One night the battery started to fail on the CO alarm - I have never heard such a screeching alarm before - there is no way you can miss it - yikes!

I have cousins in Raleigh - and all over NC - how nice! Don't know what the state law is there. I will ask my cousin in Greenville!


Lord Bryan 6 years ago

Here in the UK, and I'm not sure if it is still the same, but in older homes, you had a "thing" in your window that keep the air moving. This way there was always fresh air circulating in the home. Keep the room cold in the winter but if you think about the bad side, I guess the cold is worth it. I have to check the next time we go to NYC, we have a home in NY also, and see if we have one of those alarms. The worker takes care of it. I know there is something near the bed room but not sure if it is just a smoke alarm or CO alarm.

Lord Bryan


Lord Bryan 6 years ago

Ok. I suppose I should not be allowed near anything with moving parts so early in the morning. There are typos etc in the above. SIGH.

It's early.

Lord Bryan


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

You know Lord Bryan when I was in England I remember seeing those window with the little fans built in to keep the fresh air circulating - it makes so much sense. And of course our elders knew it was not good to have a totally sealed house so growing up we always had to 'crack a window' - and I do that now.

Thanks for this input!


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 6 years ago from Holly, MI

Well this was certainly helpful! I need to get one of these detectors for sure!! Thanks for such thorough information. It is so scary to think about this being in your home!


BkCreative profile image

BkCreative 6 years ago from Brooklyn, New York City Author

Hello theherbivorhippi. It is certainly a serious problem here in NY when winter comes around. Every year there are tragedies.I'm glad you found the hub helpful.

Thanks for commenting.

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