Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Information, Symptoms and Prevention
Synopsis: Information regarding Carbon Monoxide (CO) an odorless, colorless, poisonous and potentially deadly gas.1
Author: Thomas C. Weiss Contact: Disabled World (www.disabled-world.com)
Published: 2015-04-20 Updated: 2020-09-25
It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people per year seek medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States.
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.
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.
Carbon monoxide (CO) is defined as a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that is slightly less dense than air. It is toxic to humans when encountered in concentrations above about 35 ppm. Symptoms of mild acute poisoning will include light-headedness, confusion, headaches, vertigo, and flu-like effects; larger exposures can lead to significant toxicity of the central nervous system and heart, and death.
Approximately 170 people in America alone perish each year from CO produced by non-automotive consumer products. The products include:
- Charcoal that is burned in homes and enclosed areas
- Engine-powered equipment such as portable generators
- Malfunctioning fuel-burning appliances such as ranges, furnaces, room and water heaters
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:
- Shortness of breath
Increasing levels of CO poisoning results in symptoms that are progressively more severe. The symptoms of increasing CO level exposure can include the following:
- Mental confusion
- Loss of consciousness
- Loss of muscular coordination
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.
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:
- Burn charcoal inside a home, vehicle, garage, or tent.
- Use gas appliances such as ovens, ranges, or clothes dryers to heat your home.
- Operate un-vented fuel-burning appliances in any room where people are sleeping.
- Leave a car running in an attached garage, even if the door to the garage is open.
- Cover the bottom of propane or natural gas ovens with aluminum foil; it blocks the combustion air flow through the appliance and may produce carbon-monoxide (CO).
- Service fuel-burning appliances without appropriate skill, knowledge and tools. Always refer to the owners manual when performing minor adjustments or servicing fuel-burning equipment.
- Use portable fuel-burning camping equipment inside of a garage, home, tent, or vehicle unless it is specifically designed for use in an enclosed space and provides instructions for safe use in an enclosed area.
- Operate a portable generator, or any other gasoline engine-powered tool, either in or near an enclosed space such as a house, garage, or other building. Even with the windows and doors open, these spaces may trap CO and permit it to rapidly build to lethal levels.
Where carbon-monoxide is concerned there are some things people can do to prevent symptoms or deaths. For example, people can:
- Install a CO alarm that meets the requirements of the current safety standard.
- Make sure appliances are in appropriate working order when renovations are complete.
- Ensure; during home renovations, that appliance vents and chimneys are not blocked by debris or tarps.
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
- In many industrialized countries carbon monoxide is the cause of more than 50% of fatal poisonings.
- It has been estimated that more than 40,000 people per year seek medical attention for carbon monoxide poisoning in the United States.
- In the United States, approximately 200 people die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning associated with home fuel-burning heating equipment.
- Carbon monoxide poisoning contributes to the approximately 5613 smoke inhalation deaths each year in the United States.
- Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves.
- For the 10-year period from 1979 to 1988, 56,133 deaths from carbon monoxide poisoning occurred in the United States, with 25,889 of those being suicides, leaving 30,244 unintentional deaths.
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