The Dangers of Carbon Monoxide

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Recently in the news, CNN reported on a story about a child who was found dead and his mother unconscious at a hotel in Boone, North Carolina. Six weeks prior, an elderly couple was found dead at the same hotel in April. The investigation is ongoing, but the cause is thought to be a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. (Read the story, CBS affiliate WBTV reports:N.C. Hotel Deaths Update: Carbon monoxide found in room where 3 died over 2 months, officials say)

What is Carbon Monoxide or CO?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is a deadly, colorless, odorless, poisonous gas, that is produced by the incomplete burning of various fuels, including coal, wood, charcoal, oil, kerosene, propane, and natural gas.

 Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

The Causes and Sources
The most common sources of carbon monoxide are from our cars, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, portable generators, and other equipment that have internal combustion engines, which produce carbon monoxide. Home fireplaces, natural gas pipes and outdoor gas and wood grills also produce carbon monoxide in or near your home.

Warning Signs and Symptoms
Carbon monoxide is dangerous because it is odorless, colorless, and otherwise undetectable to our senses. The severity and the duration of exposure along with the individual’s unique health condition affect the onset of health symptoms.

The initial symptoms (low carbon monoxide poising) include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness

Deadly, high level poisoning from carbon monoxide results in:

  • Mental confusion
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of muscular coordination
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Ultimately death

Carbon Monoxide Prevention
How do you prevent carbon monoxide poisoning? Awareness and caution are key. Familiarize yourself with common household products and equipment and take time to learn their equipment’s power source (i.e. an internal combustion engine) and follow the manuals for use and care for that device. When in doubt and unsure of the presence of carbon monoxide, immediately ventilate the area and leave that area. Air quality and testing may be necessary for areas that have limited or no access to ventilation and fresh air.

How to Seek First Aid and Treatment
If you find a person suffering from the symptoms of carbon monoxide or the person is already unconscious perform the following immediately:

  1. Call 911
  2. Immediately move the person away from the carbon monoxide area and to an area with fresh air
  3. CPR – check for breathing and if not perform CPR
  4. Assist the emergency medical services as appropriate when they arrive and notify them of the exact carbon monoxide area
  5. The hospital will determine the exposure level and if mild, administer oxygen. If the carbon monoxide poisoning is severe, high doses of oxygen therapy may be needed.

Frequency of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
According to the CDC, about 170 people in the United States die every year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products, such as cars left running in attached garages.


Carbon Monoxide poisoning graphic provided by the CDC.


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