Carbon monoxide (CO) is a poisonous, odorless, colorless gas that kills without warning. It claims the lives of hundreds of people every year and makes thousands more ill.
Many household items, including gas- and oil-burning furnaces, portable generators, pressure washers and charcoal grills produce CO. When power outages occur during natural disasters and other emergencies, using alternative sources of fuel or electricity for heating or cooking can cause CO to build up in a home, garage, or camper, and to poison the people and animals inside.
Following these important steps can keep your family safe.
Use carbon monoxide detectors: Install a battery-operated or battery back-up CO detector in your home. Place your detector where it will wake you up if it alarms, such as outside your bedroom. Check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall. A detector with a digital readout can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your detector every five years. Wisconsin law requires all residential properties have CO detectors.
Oil and gas furnaces: Both produce CO. Have your furnace inspected every year. Also have your water heater, and any other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year. Make sure they are vented properly.
Don’t use these for indoor heating: Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Never burn charcoal indoors; burning charcoal gives off CO. Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. All of these can cause CO to build up inside your home, cabin, or camper.
Portable generators. Never use a generator inside your home or garage, even if doors and windows are open. Only use generators outside, more than 20 feet away from your home, doors and windows.
The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. CO symptoms are often described as “flu-like.” If you breathe in a lot of CO, it can make you pass out or kill you. People who are sleeping or under the influence of alcohol or drugs can die from CO poisoning before they have symptoms.
The best ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning is to install a carbon monoxide alarm on each level of your home.
Dr. Milos is a board certified emergency medicine doctor. He serves as Mercyhealth’s regional Medical Director of Emergency Medicine.