Carbon Monoxide in the Home

Malfunctioning gas, oil and kerosene heaters can release carbon monoxide gas (CO), which presents a serious health threat. CO is a colorless, odorless, tasteless, nonirritating gas. These properties make CO especially dangerous because it cannot be detected without special testing of the air quality.

When inhaled, CO reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can carry and the amount of oxygen delivered to all vital organs. The organs at greatest risk of injury are those with the highest requirements for oxygen — the heart and the brain.

If CO is detected, you should leave the area of exposure immediately and go to the emergency department. Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222 for further instruction. The gas company, oil company or local health authority can provide help in identifying and removing sources of CO contamination.

  • Sources of carbon monoxide
    • Malfunctioning gas, oil or kerosene heaters

    • House fires

    • Occasionally, paint strippers containing methylene chloride

  • Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning

    Symptoms of a mild exposure to CO include headache, shortness of breath during mild exertion and fatigue. Continued exposure to CO may result in nausea, vomiting, visual disturbances and difficulty concentrating.

    Prolonged exposure and lack of medical treatment may lead to serious and long-term effects and may even be life-threatening. The very young and the very old are most sensitive to the effects of CO.

    Some symptoms of CO poisoning, such as headache, dizziness, nausea and fatigue, can be confused with the common flu. However, flu is passed from one family member to another, and usually does not affect everyone in the family at the same time. Symptoms of the flu do not improve after leaving the house; and are usually relieved with proper medication.

    CO poisoning, on the other hand, will simultaneously produce symptoms in the entire family, including the family pets. Symptoms may improve upon leaving the area of exposure; and are not relieved with medication.

Reviewed by The Poison Control Center on October 01, 2013