What is carbon monoxide poisoning?
poisoning happens when you breathe too much carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is
a gas produced by burning any type of fuel—gas, oil, kerosene, wood, or
charcoal. What makes this gas so dangerous is that when you breathe it,
it replaces the oxygen in your blood . Without oxygen, cells throughout the
body die, and the organs stop working.
You can't see, smell, or
taste carbon monoxide. But if you breathe too much of it, it can become deadly
within minutes. So be sure you know the signs of carbon monoxide
poisoning, what to do if you have the symptoms, and how to keep it from
What causes carbon monoxide poisoning?
monoxide can come from any source that burns fuel. Common sources are cars, fireplaces,
powerboats, woodstoves, kerosene space heaters, charcoal grills, and gas
appliances such as water heaters, ovens, and dryers. Usually they cause no problems. Trouble comes when:
- Cars, trucks, or other engines are left running in enclosed
spaces, such as garages. Carbon monoxide can build up in a garage and leak back
into the house. Even sitting in an idling car in an open garage or swimming
behind an idling boat can be dangerous.
- Fuel-burning appliances are not installed or used properly.
Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can build up inside houses and other
- Fuel-burning heating systems and appliances are used during
cold weather, when doors and windows are closed. Chimneys in older buildings
become blocked and release fumes into the homes or offices. Newer houses that
are well insulated and tightly sealed can trap carbon monoxide inside.
What are the symptoms?
Early symptoms of carbon
monoxide poisoning include:
As carbon monoxide builds up in your blood , symptoms get worse and may include:
If you have symptoms that you think could be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the area right away, and call 911 or go to the emergency room. If you keep breathing the fumes,
you may pass out and die.
Carbon monoxide poisoning can occur
suddenly or over a long period of time. Breathing low levels of carbon monoxide
over a long period can cause severe heart problems and brain damage. See a
- You often are short of breath and have mild nausea and
headaches when you are indoors.
- You feel better when you leave the building and worse when you
- Other people you work or live with have the same symptoms you
How is carbon monoxide poisoning diagnosed?
It can be hard to know if you have
carbon monoxide poisoning. The same symptoms can be caused by flu or other
problems. In the winter months, doctors may suspect carbon monoxide poisoning
in people who complain of severe headache, nausea, or dizziness. This is
especially true if other household members or coworkers have the same symptoms. Even pets in the home may get sick.
your doctor suspects carbon monoxide poisoning, he or she can order a blood
test that measures the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood. You may have
other blood tests to check your overall health and to look for problems caused
by carbon monoxide.