Carbon Monoxide Poisoning (CO)

[kahr-buh n] [mon-ok-sahyd] [poi-zuh-ning]

Woman on floor with dog and laptop

Silence isn’t always golden, especially when it comes to carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning. CO is an odorless, colorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. When power outages occur after severe weather, such as winter storms, using alternative sources of power can cause CO to build-up in a home and poison the people and animals inside. The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. High levels of CO inhalation can cause loss of consciousness and death.

There are steps you can take to help protect yourself and your household from CO poisoning. Change the batteries in your CO detector every six months. If you don’t have a battery-powered or battery back-up CO detector, buy one soon.

CO is found in fumes produced by furnaces, stoves, lanterns, and gas ranges, or by burning charcoal and wood. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or partially enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned and can die from breathing CO.

Quiz

Key Facts

  • Every year, at least 430 people die in the U.S. from accidental CO poisoning.
  • Approximately 50,000 people in the U.S. visit the emergency department each year due to accidental CO poisoning.
  • Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen.
  • When you inhale CO, your body replaces the oxygen in blood with CO.
  • People who are sleeping or who have been drinking alcohol can die from CO poisoning before ever having symptoms.

Media

Red Blood Cells
Red Blood Cells

Red blood cells pick up CO quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of CO in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with CO.

Two guys working on an old car
Don’t Run a Car Inside a Garage

Don't run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if you leave the door open.

Snowy house
Severe Weather

When power outages occur after severe weather (such as winter storms, hurricanes, or tornadoes), using alternative sources of power can cause CO to build-up in a home and poison the people and animals inside.

Family with camper
Campers

CO is found in combustion fumes, such as those produced by stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, and gas ranges and heating systems. CO from these sources can build up in enclosed or semi-enclosed spaces. People and animals in these spaces can be poisoned by breathing it.

Family on boat
Boating

Larger boats sometimes have generators that vent toward the rear of the boat. This venting poses a danger of CO poisoning to people on the rear swim deck or water platform. CO builds up above the water near the water platform.

Gas Flame
Gas Flame

Each year, more than 400 Americans die from unintentional CO poisoning, more than 20,000 visit the emergency room and more than 4,000 are hospitalized due to CO poisoning.

CO Poisoning Prevention Tips

  • Never use a gas range or oven to heat a home.
  • Never leave the motor running in a vehicle parked in an enclosed or partially enclosed space, such as a garage.
  • Never run a generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine inside a basement, garage, or other enclosed structure, even if the doors or windows are open, unless the equipment is professionally installed and vented. Keep vents and flues free of debris, especially if winds are high. Flying debris can block ventilation lines.
  • Never run a motor vehicle, generator, pressure washer, or any gasoline-powered engine less than 20 feet from an open window, door, or vent where exhaust can vent into an enclosed area.
  • Never use a charcoal grill, hibachi, lantern, or portable camping stove inside a home, tent, or camper.
  • If conditions are too hot or too cold, seek shelter with friends or at a community shelter.
  • If CO poisoning is suspected, consult a health care professional right away.

More at CDC.gov

Page last reviewed: March 2, 2020