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How to avoid carbon monoxide poisoning

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What are the symptoms?

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain and confusion. High levels of carbon monoxide ingestion can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, carbon monoxide poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from carbon monoxide poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

How does carbon monoxide poisoning work?

Red blood cells pick up carbon monoxide quicker than they pick up oxygen. If there is a lot of carbon monoxide in the air, the body may replace oxygen in blood with carbon monoxide. This blocks oxygen from getting into the body, which can damage tissues and result in death.

Who is at risk from carbon monoxide poisoning?

All people and animals are at risk for poisoning. Certain groups — unborn babies, infants and people with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems — are more susceptible to its effects. Each year, more than 500 Americans die from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning, and more than 2,000 commit suicide by intentionally poisoning themselves.

How can I prevent poisoning in my home?

• Have your heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.

• Do not use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. Although these heaters don't have a flame, they burn gas and can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home, cabin or camper.

• Install a battery-operated carbon monoxide detector in your home and check or replace the battery when you change the time on your clocks each spring and fall.

• Never burn anything in a stove or fireplace that isn’t vented.

• Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year. Chimneys can be blocked by debris. This can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home or cabin.

• Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum or anything else. This kind of patch can make carbon monoxide build up in your home, cabin or camper.

How can I heat my house safely or cook when the power is out?

• Never use a gas range or oven for heating. Using a gas range or oven for heating can cause a buildup of carbon monoxide inside your home, cabin or camper.

• Never use a charcoal grill or a barbecue grill indoors. Using a grill indoors will cause a buildup of carbon monoxide inside your home, cabin or camper unless you use it inside a vented fireplace.

• Never burn charcoal indoors. Burning charcoal — red, gray, black or white — gives off carbon monoxide.

• Never use a portable gas camp stove indoors. Using a gas camp stove indoors can cause carbon monoxide to build up inside your home, cabin or camper.

• Never use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage or near a window, door, or vent.

How can I avoid poisoning from my vehicle?

• Have a mechanic check the exhaust system of your car every year. A small leak in your car's exhaust system can lead to a build up of carbon monoxide inside the car.

• Never run a car or truck in the garage with the garage door shut. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly while your car or truck is running in a closed garage. Never run your car or truck inside a garage that is attached to a house and always open the door to any garage to let in fresh air when running a car or truck inside the garage.

• If you drive a vehicle with a tailgate, when you open the tailgate, you also need to open vents or windows to make sure air is moving through your car. If only the tailgate is open carbon monoxide from the exhaust will be pulled into the car.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention