Carbon monoxide is a colorless, tasteless, and odorless toxic gas that when inhaled can make you feel tired, cause headaches or dizziness, and in large amounts can lead to death. When carbon monoxide is present in the air, oxygen-carrying cells will carry the carbon monoxide rather than oxygen, and will become saturated with the gas and unable to carry needed oxygen to cells. That's why it's so important to install carbon-monoxide detectors to warn of dangerous levels.
Most carbon-monoxide poisoning cases in homes occur at night during winter months because homes tend to be sealed up tightly from the cold and may be poorly ventilated. Carbon-monoxide gas is created by the incomplete combustion of carbon-containing compounds in fireplaces, space heaters, forced-air gas furnaces, appliances, and motor vehicles that use charcoal or fuel. You are also at risk if you have any nonelectric appliances in your home, including a gas stove or water heater, or if you have an attached garage.
Common symptoms of carbon-monoxide poisoning include:
Dizziness and lightheadedness
Inability to concentrate
Shortness of breath
Irritability and lethargy in infants
Even when awake, you may not be aware of breathing toxic fumes; only a carbon-monoxide detector can tell you for sure. They can be purchased for reasonable prices at most retail outlets and hardware stores.
First Aid for Carbon-Monoxide Poisoning
The following steps should be followed in case of carbon-monoxide poisoning:
If you are fortunate enough to wake up and notice symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, fall to the ground and crawl to an exit immediately.
Call 911 for the rescue of any persons left inside if you can't safely get them to fresh air yourself, and don't attempt to rescue anyone without the proper oxygen-delivering masks.
Get into fresh air immediately and make sure you are upwind of the house.
Loosen any tight clothing around your neck and waist.
In the case of a person losing consciousness after getting outside, maintain an open airway and begin CPR or rescue breathing as outlined in Chapter 2.
In all cases of carbon-monoxide exposure, even if you feel fine, call 911 in order to receive proper assessment and oxygen if needed.