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Carbon Monoxide: The Odorless Killer

By Eric Leins, Staff Writer, myOptumHealth
2/12/2013 11:47:22 AM

Every year, hundreds of people in the United States die from carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. Carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas, is produced by burning any fuel. This means that any fuel-burning appliance in your home is a potential source of CO.

Carbon monoxide can leak from faulty furnaces or fuel-fired heaters, or it can be trapped inside by a blocked chimney or flue. Burning charcoal inside the house or running a car engine in an attached garage also can produce this gas in the home.

The key to prevention is to make sure fuel-burning appliances are in good working order and used properly. Have your home heating systems, including chimneys and flues, inspected each year to make sure they are operating properly and are not leaking. Inspectors should check all heating appliances and their electrical and mechanical components, thermostat controls, and automatic safety devices.

To protect yourself and your family, you can put a carbon monoxide detector on each floor of your house.

What are the symptoms of poisoning?

Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to flu-like illnesses. You cannot smell carbon monoxide - it is an odorless killer.

Symptoms may include:

-Dizziness

-Fatigue

-Headache

-Nausea

-Irregular breathing

As carbon monoxide levels rise, disorientation, loss of consciousness, and even death may result.

How can I tell if there might be a problem?

If several family members get these symptoms at once, it may be the flu, but it could also be carbon monoxide poisoning. Look for these signs, which could signal a CO problem:

-Rusting or water streaks on vents/chimneys

-Loose or missing furnace panels

-Soot

-Loose or disconnected vent/chimney connections

-Debris or soot falling from chimneys, fireplaces, or appliances

-Loose masonry on chimneys

-Moisture inside windows

Can I monitor carbon monoxide in my home?

Yes. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission recommends using carbon monoxide detectors with labels showing they meet the requirements of the new Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Inc. The UL standards require detectors to sound an alarm when exposure to carbon monoxide reaches potentially hazardous levels.

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