Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning: Information, Symptoms, Prevention

Health and Disability

Author: Thomas C. Weiss
Published: 2015/04/20 - Updated: 2024/05/03
Publication Type: Informative
Contents: Summary - Definition - Introduction - Main - Related

Synopsis: Information regarding Carbon Monoxide an odorless, colorless, poisonous and potentially deadly gas. Includes chart showing effects of CO in PPM. It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people per year seek medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States. Health effects depend on the carbon-monoxide (CO) concentration and the length of the exposure, as well as each person's health condition.


Carbon Monoxide or, 'CO', is a type of odorless, colorless, poisonous and deadly gas. It is produced by the incomplete burning of different fuels such as wood, coal, oil, charcoal, propane, kerosene and natural gas. Equipment and products powered by internal combustion engines including cars, lawn mowers, portable generators and power washers also produce CO.

Main Digest

Approximately 170 people in America alone perish each year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. The products include:

In the year 2005 alone, at least 94 generator-related CO poisoning deaths occurred. Of these deaths, 47 were known to have happened during power outages due to severe weather - to include Hurricane Katrina. Others die from CO produced by non-consumer products such as vehicles left running in attached garages. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that several thousand people go to emergency rooms at hospitals each year to receive treatment for CO poisoning.

Symptoms of CO Poisoning

Due to the fact that CO is odorless, colorless and otherwise not detectable by human senses, people may be unaware that they are even being exposed. The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to those presented by the flu actually, although without the fever associated with the flu. The first symptoms of CO poisoning include:

Increasing levels of CO poisoning results in symptoms that are progressively more severe. The symptoms of increasing CO level exposure can include the following:

The severity of an exposed person's symptoms are related to both the level of CO and the duration of the person's exposure. Where slowly developing residential CO issues, occupants or doctors might mistake mild to moderate CO poisoning symptoms for the flu - at times resulting in the tragic deaths of those exposed. When rapidly developing and high levels of CO and exposure are concerned, people may quickly become mentally confused and may lose muscle control without having first experienced the symptoms of milder exposure. Those exposed will most likely die if they are not rescued.

Continued below image.
List of CO toxicity symptoms.
List of CO toxicity symptoms.

Preventing CO Poisoning

Make sure your appliances are installed and operated in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions and local building codes. The majority of appliances should be installed by professionals who are qualified to do so. Have your heating system professionally inspected and serviced every year to ensure they are operating appropriately. The inspector should also check chimneys and flues for corrosion, blockages, partial or complete disconnections, as well as loose connections. It is important that people never, ever:

Where carbon-monoxide is concerned there are some things people can do to prevent symptoms or deaths. For example, people can:

A CO alarm may provide some level of additional protection, although it is not a substitute for proper use and upkeep of appliances that may produce CO. Install a CO alarm in the hallway near every separate sleeping area of the home. Ensure the alarm cannot be covered up by draperies or furniture.

Dangerous Levels of CO and Your Health

The health effects of CO depend on the carbon-monoxide (CO) concentration and the length of the exposure, as well as each person's health condition. Concentrations of CO are measured in parts per million (ppm). The majority of those exposed to CO will not experience any symptoms from prolonged exposure to levels of around 1-70 ppm, yet some people with heart conditions might experience an increase in chest pain. As CO levels rise and remain above 70 ppm, symptoms may become more noticeable and may include nausea, fatigue and headache. At sustained CO concentrations above 150-200 ppm, disorientation, unconsciousness and death become possible.

If you believe you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, go outside to get some fresh air immediately. Leave your home and call the fire department to report your symptoms; do so from a neighbor's home. You could lose consciousness and die if you remain at home. It is also important to contact a doctor promptly to receive an appropriate diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning as the cause of your symptoms. Quick medical attention is very important if you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning. If a doctor confirms CO poisoning, make sure a qualified service person checks your appliances for proper operation before you use them again.

Effects of CO in Parts per Million
35 ppm (0.0035%) Headache and dizziness within six to eight hours of constant exposure
100 ppm (0.01%) Slight headache in two to three hours
200 ppm (0.02%) Slight headache within two to three hours; loss of judgment
400 ppm (0.04%) Frontal headache within one to two hours
800 ppm (0.08%) Dizziness, nausea, and convulsions within 45 min; insensible within 2 hours
1,600 ppm (0.16%) Headache, increased heart rate, dizziness, and nausea within 20 min; death in less than 2 hours
3,200 ppm (0.32%) Headache, dizziness and nausea in five to ten minutes. Death within 30 minutes.
6,400 ppm (0.64%) Headache and dizziness in one to two minutes. Convulsions, respiratory arrest, and death in less than 20 minutes.
12,800 ppm (1.28%) Unconsciousness after 2-3 breaths. Death in less than three minutes.

Facts and Statistics

Author Credentials:

Thomas C. Weiss is a researcher and editor for Disabled World. Thomas attended college and university courses earning a Masters, Bachelors and two Associate degrees, as well as pursing Disability Studies. As a Nursing Assistant Thomas has assisted people from a variety of racial, religious, gender, class, and age groups by providing care for people with all forms of disabilities from Multiple Sclerosis to Parkinson's; para and quadriplegia to Spina Bifida. Explore Thomas' complete biography for comprehensive insights into his background, expertise, and accomplishments.

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Cite This Page (APA): Weiss, T. C. (2015, April 20 - Last revised: 2024, May 3). Carbon Monoxide (CO) Poisoning: Information, Symptoms, Prevention. Disabled World. Retrieved July 13, 2024 from

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