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Carbon Monoxide Hazards

Nov 18, 2015

The Air You Breathe Should Be Free – Free from Poison!

You can’t see it – you can’t smell it – you can’t taste it, yet hundreds of people die each year from this ghostly gas, and many more get sick. Carbon monoxide (CO) is produced when you burn fuel. This gas is produced by your furnace, gas water heater, gas oven, grill, fireplace, car, boat, or generator. Normally CO is directed outside from appliances into the open air where it should not harm you. However, sometimes we do not realize the potential danger of using these appliances. Make sure that they can vent outside and always inspect for a faulty chimney, pipe, hose, or exhaust system that allows this gas to accumulate in your homes, automobiles or other living spaces. Of course, you should never burn any fuel in or near living spaces without properly vented exhaust of CO.

The past winters have been unusually cold prompting people to use nontraditional ways to keep warm. To stay safe from carbon monoxide poisoning, only use generators, grills, camp stoves or other gasoline, propane or charcoal burning heaters in well-ventilated outdoor areas and never use them inside of the home or in a garage. Never try to heat your home with your oven. Generators should be operated at least 20 feet from your home.

Why is CO so harmful? The cells that make up your human body require oxygen. In a normal, healthy environment, oxygen makes up about 21% of the air you breathe. As oxygen moves into your lungs, it is then carried throughout the cells of your body by hemoglobin found in the red blood cells. When the air you breathe contains an unhealthy amount of CO, oxygen can no longer be transported throughout your body in the amounts your body needs because your red blood cells prefer to carry CO rather than oxygen. Your body’s cells then cannot get enough oxygen and they starve. This leads to serious medical problems.

If you or your family feel dizzy, lightheaded, or sick to their stomach while heating your home or burning fuel, get to fresh air immediately and seek help. The Poison Center is always available for advice on what to do if you suspect you have been poisoned by carbon monoxide.

Did you know?

The effects of carbon monoxide poisoning on the brain can be severe and permanent. Permanent damage to memory and coordination may be experienced in up to 25% of severe CO victims. Fetuses and young children are particularly susceptible to the effects of carbon monoxide. Prevention is the key!

Take a little extra time to prevent poisoning!

Particularly during winter, follow these tips to keep your family safe:
Some sources of CO include:
  • Gas furnaces
  • Gas water heaters
  • Gas stoves
  • Gas ovens
  • Kerosene space heaters
  • Wood and gas fireplaces
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Power generators
  • Car engines
  • Boat engines
People at greatest risk/harm for CO poisoning are:
  • Pregnant women
  • Infants
  • Young children
  • Older people
  • People with diseases that affect breathing
  • People with heart disease
Signs of CO poisoning are similar to signs common to flu and some cold-weather viruses:
  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
To prevent CO poisoning in your home:
  • Have at least one CO alarm in your home. The best places for CO alarms are near bedrooms and close to furnaces.
  • Have your heating system, vents, and chimney checked by experts every year prior to use.
  • Always follow product instructions for installing and repairing appliances that burn fuel.
  • Never burn charcoal inside of a house or garage.
  • Never use a gas oven to heat a house or apartment.
  • Never use unvented fuel-burning devices in a house or apartment.
  • Never stay in a garage if a vehicle is running.


Do not use power generators in the home or within 20 feet of windows, doors or intake vents.

Young children should not sit in the back of idling vehicles.

Get your auto exhaust system checked at least yearly.

Those who drive as an occupation or who have long commutes on a daily basis, should take extra precautions - take fresh air brakes after being in traffic jams and driving in tunnels for a long time.

24/7/365 HOTLINE: 1-800-222-1222

If you encounter a poison, call us – The Children’s Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center