Suppose you have visited a new area and you have to rent an Airbnb. You forgot to carry your portable carbon monoxide detector but still want to keep safe from carbon monoxide poisoning. The best you can think of is leaving the window open, just in case. Will this help? Is it possible to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning by opening a window?
Here’s the thing: opening a window will help slow down carbon monoxide poisoning. However, it will not prevent it from happening.
Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that can accumulate within your house without you noticing. People describe carbon monoxide as a “silent killer” because of its ability to go unnoticed in an environment. You can hardly notice its presence until it’s too late.
Opening a window may seem like good prevention from poisoning. However, it is not good enough to save you from the danger if carbon monoxide is present.
If you suspect or experience signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, it would be best to call 911 immediately.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirm that over 430 people in the U.S.A. succumb to carbon monoxide poisoning. It also attests that 50,000 people visit the emergency room annually due to accidental poisoning, while more than 4000 people are hospitalized for the very reason. Alarming, right?
Let’s learn more about carbon monoxide poisoning in this article. We will also inform you of carbon monoxide crucial details such as signs of poisoning, how to prevent the poisoning, and what to do when you experience poisoning, among other FAQs. Read on to find out!
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
We consider Carbon Monoxide a colorless, tasteless, and odorless gas. It will build up in your house due to certain situations or when you use certain appliances. Don’t be alarmed, though, because cooking with your oven or using a heater does not increase the chances of carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, if the named devices malfunction, they will likely build up an environment for carbon monoxide, thus creating a life-threatening situation.
While it is typical for everyone to be exposed to tiny amounts of carbon monoxide daily, some circumstances will cause it to excessively build up within a home, thus becoming hazardous.
Other circumstances that may cause the CO buildup include: a vehicle’s engine left running in an attached garage or a poorly ventilated wood-burning fireplace. Listed below are other common sources of carbon monoxide poisoning:
- Tobacco Smoke
- A clogged chimney
- Gas or fuel-burning appliances in cabins or campers, barbecue grills, pool or spa heaters, or ceiling-mounted heating units.
- A malfunctioned gas clothes dryer.
- A malfunctioned water heater.
- Auto exhaust or idling vehicles.
- Malfunctioned cooking appliances
- Malfunctioned oil, wood, gas, or coal furnaces.
- Fire outbreaks.
What Is Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The Mayo Clinic website describes carbon monoxide poisoning as a situation where carbon monoxide builds up within your bloodstream.
It occurs when the carbon monoxide amount in the air is above standard.
When this happens, your body will replace the oxygen in your red blood cells with carbon monoxide, thus preventing oxygen from reaching body tissues and organs.
With the carbon monoxide in your red blood cells, there will be severe tissue damage or something as fatal as death.
Under normal circumstances, the red blood cells in your body are designed to carry and transport oxygen throughout your body.
However, these cells absorb carbon monoxide faster than they absorb oxygen.
This is why it will easily replace oxygen in your body if it is at high levels within your surrounding. The carbon monoxide in your body will deprive organs like the heart and brain of the oxygen they desperately need.
It doesn’t end there, as CO can also combine with proteins within your body and damage organs and cells.
You will likely lose consciousness (pass out) and suffocate within the shortest time possible if you inhale excess amounts of carbon monoxide.
Also, most carbon monoxide exposures usually happen during winter. This is because of poorly maintained heating systems or those warming up cars in garages.
Take Away: Carbon monoxide poisoning usually results from inhaling combustion fumes. Carbon monoxide produced from a running engine or an oven within your house is not a cause for alarm. You should only be alarmed if you use the named appliances in a closed or partially closed space.
NOTE: You will also experience carbon monoxide poisoning if you inhale smoke during a fire breakout.
What Are the Warning Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
Carbon monoxide poisoning can happen to anyone. However, some people are at a higher risk of poisoning than others. These people include: developing fetuses, infants, older adults (research shows that most adults aged 65 and older succumb to CO poisoning), people living in high altitudes, people suffering from chronic heart diseases, anemia, and any respiratory problems.
People with high CO levels within their systems are also at a higher risk of poisoning than others. For instance, those who smoke. You may wonder, “why are the mentioned people at a higher risk than others?” Here is why:
Unborn babies are at a higher risk of poisoning because fetal blood cells absorb carbon monoxide gas more readily than adult cells. This makes them more vulnerable to harm from CO poisoning.
Young Children take breaths more frequently than adults; this puts them at a higher risk of inhaling carbon monoxide more readily than adults.
Older adults are at a higher risk since they are more likely to experience brain damage, which may kill them faster than anything.
People suffering from chronic heart diseases, anemia, and respiratory problems are more susceptible to getting sick due to carbon monoxide poisoning. This is due to their already delicate health status.
NOTE: The severity of the carbon monoxide exposure may vary, hence a varied outcome. The poisoning may result in permanent brain damage and heart damage that may lead to life-threatening cardiac complications, fetal death, or miscarriage or death of the affected person.
Additionally, people highly exposed to CO due to their occupations are at a higher risk of CO poisoning. This is because dangerous amounts of CO exist in such places as boiler rooms, warehouses, or petroleum refineries.
Jobs that would expose you to higher CO levels than standard include firefighting, forklifting, garage mechanics, police officers, taxi drivers, tollbooth attendants, and welders. You may want to be more alert to the signs of poisoning if you fall within these categories.
The signs and symptoms of carbon monoxide will vary depending on the amount of CO you’ve inhaled.
If you’ve inhaled low amounts of CO, the signs are similar to flu and food poisoning. These include mild headache, mild nausea, and shortness of breath.
According to the Cleveland clinic organization, if you are exposed to moderate CO levels, you will experience the following:
- Chest pain
- Dizziness and weakness
- Loss of consciousness (one may pass out because of this).
- Improper muscle coordination
- Mental confusion
- Severe headache
- Stomach upset characterized by nausea and vomiting.
If you experience such symptoms, there is a high chance of experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning. Therefore, try and reach out for help as fast as you can.
Your healthcare provider will do a blood test on you to determine if it’s CO poisoning. However, the test will not detect the severity of the poisoning or determine whether or not it will impact your health in the long run.
Your health provider will also gauge the treatment that best suits you based on the following factors:
- The period within which you were exposed to the CO.
- The concentration of the gas that you inhaled.
- Your health in general.
What Should You Do If You Experience Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
As soon as you suspect you’ve been exposed to carbon monoxide or are experiencing CO poisoning symptoms, ensure that you call 911. If you can get to an emergency room, the better!
The health providers will give you an oxygen mask through which you’ll breathe to get pure oxygen—this will imbalance the carbon monoxide buildup within your bloodstream.
If you notice that someone else is experiencing Carbon monoxide poisoning, you should first move them away from the area with the CO gas.
If you find the person unconscious, examine if they have any injuries before moving (someone may have fallen while passing out, which may lead to further injuries).
If you can detect the source of the carbon monoxide, turn it off immediately to prevent it from causing further damage.
Medical websites recommend CPR on CO-poisoning victims if they are found unresponsive or not breathing normally. Perform this CPR for a minute before dialing the emergency number if you are alone. If not, have someone else call while you begin the CPR.
If you are alone with a child or a baby that’s unresponsive and not breathing (they may be gasping), call the emergency number after performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) for two minutes.
Before beginning CPR, assess if the child is conscious and go to a safer environment. Also, examine if the child has injuries, bleeding, or other visible medical problems. Tap the child gently and inquire with a raised voice, ‘are you okay?’
Check the child’s breathing by placing your ear near their mouth and nose. Assess if there is any notable breath on your cheek and if the child’s chest is moving.
If the child is unresponsive and not breathing, promptly begin the chest compressions. Here is how you do it:
- Lay the child on their back. If you suspect they may have incurred a neck or head injury, roll the baby over by moving their whole body at once. Be extra careful not to tilt the head back too far.
- If it is a baby, place two fingers on the breastbone. If the victim’s a child, place the heel of one hand on the middle between the chest and the nipple line. You can also compress with one hand on top of the other.
- For a child, compress down about two inches. Be careful not to press on the ribs as they are still fragile and more susceptible to fracture.
- For a baby, press down for about 1 ½ inches, about 1/3 to ½ chest depth. Be extra careful not to press the end of the breastbone.
- Do approximately 30 compressions at the rate of 100 per minute. Allow the chest to rise ultimately between the pushes.
- Check to examine if the child has started breathing. Continue with the CPR until emergency help arrives.
You can also perform rescue breathing if the child or adult is unresponsive due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Here is how you do it:
- Lift the child’s chin with one hand to open the airway. As you do this, tilt the head back by pushing on the forehead with the other hand. Avoid tilting the victim’s head if you suspect they may have suffered a head or neck injury.
- Cover the child’s mouth tightly with yours. Proceed and pinch the nose closed and give breaths.
- If it’s a baby, cover their mouth and nose with your mouth, then give the breaths.
- Give the child two breaths as you examine if the chest rises each time. Every breath should last about one second.
If the child remains unresponsive, you must repeat the compressions and breathing.
- Give two breaths after every 30 chest compression. If you are performing first aid with the help of another person, give 15 compressions, then two breaths.
- Keep up with the cycle involving 30 compressions and two breaths till the child begins breathing or until emergency help arrives.
- If you are alone with the child and have done the CPR for about two minutes (5 cycles of compressions and breathing), call 911 and find an Automated External Defibrillator (AED).
Use an AED as soon as you find one. Use a pediatric AED for children aged nine and under. If you don’t find one, then use a standard AED. Here is how you can use it:
- Turn on the AED
- Wipe the patient’s chest dry and attach the pads.
- The AED will give you detailed instructions.
- Repeat the compressions you’ve been doing earlier and follow AED prompts until the child starts breathing or until emergency help arrives.
Once you are at the hospital, the patient will be treated with 100% (pure oxygen) delivered in different ways. This is because the severity of carbon monoxide exposure may differ.
Mild poisoning is treated with oxygen delivered in a mask, while severe carbon monoxide poisoning may require healthcare providers to place the person in a full-body, high-pressure chamber to force oxygen into the body.
How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
Prevention is always better than cure. While sometimes the “silent killer” may be detected in a room when it is too late, it is always better to take preventive measures to avoid such ordeals. It is possible to prevent carbon monoxide exposure through the following ways:
- Installing Carbon Monoxide Detectors.
Purchase a suitable carbon monoxide detector which will help in alerting you as soon as the gas is above normal within an environment.
The number of fuel-burning appliances in the house determines the number of carbon monoxide detectors you will need. The more appliances, the more detectors you will need.
Installing your carbon monoxide alarm is a piece of cake. It is straightforward; hence you can do it as a DIY task.
The device comes with a manual from the manufacturer. Always ensure that you read the instructions for the correct positioning, servicing, testing, and replacement of the alarm.
Be keener on the battery’s life, as the device will not function if the batteries are dead or if the system has malfunctioned. Most alarms are designed to last five to seven years, while some last as long as 10.
Install your carbon monoxide detector in the same room as the potential source of the gas. Place it around 15cm from the ceiling and meters away from cookers, boilers, and fires. Avoid placing it directly above s source of heat or steam, as it may lead to false alarms.
Always test the detector to ensure that it is still efficient. Consider replacing the batteries annually or soon as it signals low batteries. However, sealed battery alarms will last as long as the alarm functions and will not need a replacement.
- Let a qualified technician install your heating system, water heater, and other gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances. Also, call them to service the appliances annually. This is because most carbon monoxide poisoning occurs due to malfunctioned appliances.
- Avoid using portable flameless chemical heaters indoors.
- If you notice a strange odor from your gas refrigerator, call in an expert as soon as possible to service it. This is because the gas refrigerator odor usually indicates CO is leaking.
- Pay attention to the equipment you are buying. Only purchase a piece of equipment with the seal of a national testing agency, such as underwriters laboratories. This ensures that the equipment is as safe as it should be.
- Ensure that the gas appliances are appropriately vented. Ensure that the horizontal vent pipes for appliances like the water heater should go up slightly outdoors. This is effective in preventing the leaking of CO due to improper fitting of the joints or pipes.
- Ensure that you examine and clean your chimney every year. This is because there’s a high likelihood that the chimneys are blocked by debris which will, in turn, result in CO buildup in your home.
- Avoid using a gas range or oven for heating as it increases the likelihood of CO buildup in your home, cabin, or camper.
- Avoid burning charcoal inside your home. This is because burning red, gray, black, or white charcoal usually releases CO into the air and may suffocate you if used inside the house.
- Avoid using portable gas camp stoves indoors because, like charcoal, they cause CO buildup within your home.
- Do not use a generator inside your home, basement, or garage. Also, avoid using it in a location less than 20 feet from a window, door, or any vent.
- Ensure that you use a battery-powered or a battery backup CO detector if you use a generator in your home.
We also mentioned that certain occupations might put you at a higher risk of getting CO poisoning than others; this includes taxi or truck driving.
Therefore, you will also need to practice preventive measures to avoid falling victim. How can I avoid poisoning from my car or truck? Here’s how you’d do it:
- Ensure that a mechanic checks the exhaust system of your vehicle every year. This is to avoid any leakages because a small leak will result in CO buildup inside your truck or car.
- Avoid running your vehicle’s engine within a garage attached to a house or with an open garage door. Ensure that you keep the door to a detached garage open to allow fresh air circulation when you run a car inside.
- If you are driving a car or an SUV, open the tailgate with other vents or windows to ensure proper air circulation. If you open the tailgate alone, carbon monoxide from the exhaust will be drawn into your vehicle, which may harm you.
We mentioned earlier that installing the Carbon Monoxide Detector is one of the most effective prevention measures against CO poisoning. While you may have installed the device, it may only keep you safe if installed and maintained correctly. Below is a description of the best practices for carbon monoxide detector placement and installation:
- Ensure that you install a CO detector on every level of your home, including the basement.
- Install the CO detector near bedrooms so that they will alert you (in your sleep) if the alarm sounds in the middle of the night.
- Mount your carbon detector on the wall or a couple of feet below your ceiling board. This is because, unlike smoke, CO gas won’t rise to your ceiling level until the gas is heavily concentrated. Besides, modern CO detectors in the market have digital readouts. It would help if you installed them at eye level so you can read them. Also, ensure that you install the device away from your children or pets to avoid tampering.
- Place the carbon monoxide detectors under stable temperatures. They should be away from direct sunlight and from appliances, lights, and radiators that generate heat. Consider the airflow during the installation and avoid mounting the device near windows that are opened often. Also, avoid installing the detectors in overly humid areas like the bathrooms and laundry rooms.
- Avoid covering the detectors. Mount them in the open, away from curtains, furniture, or shelves that could block them or interfere with the normal airflow within their sensors.
- If your house is attached to a garage inside, ensure that you mount a carbon monoxide detector inside the house; within a 10 feet range from the door of the garage. This is because running your car within a garage attached to your house will spike up the carbon monoxide levels in the home.
- Finally, ensure that your carbon monoxide detectors are easy to test. Position them in areas where you can comfortably reach and examine them after every six months. Also, replace them as regularly as the manufacturer recommends. (Most carbon monoxide detectors will last you for about five years).
How Many Hours Does It Take to Get Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
The period within which carbon monoxide poisoning occurs varies due to several factors. These factors include:
- The concentration of carbon monoxide gas within your surrounding
- How long the CO exposure took place
- Your current health status, i.e., whether you have respiratory issues, a heart condition, anemia, and other health issues that may make you more vulnerable/
- If you are with a child.
- Older adults and infants may also experience severe poisoning symptoms.
With all these factors constant, high concentrations of carbon monoxide will kill in less than five minutes. However, if the concentrations are low, it will take a bit longer to affect your body system.
The carbon monoxide concentration in your home is measured by parts per million (ppm) and the period of your exposure. You will likely develop adverse health complications if you exceed a 9ppm concentration for more than 8 hours.
A concentration of 400 ppm will cause severe headaches within an hour or two. If the same concentration is maintained for 3 to five hours, a victim may fall unconscious and die.
An 800 ppm within 45 minutes will elicit symptoms such as headache, nausea, and dizziness. You can pass out at this level within one or two hours of CO exposure. Death will result after 2-3 hours of exposure.
At 1000 ppm, you may pass out after 1-hour exposure.
At 1,600 ppm in the surrounding, you will experience severe headaches or migraine, increased nausea, and dizziness feelings within 20 minutes. Death may occur within an hour of exposure at this level.
AT 3,200 ppm, headaches, dizziness, and nausea may begin within 5 to 10 minutes of exposure. You may collapse after 30 minutes of gas exposure at this concentration level.
If it’s at 6,400 pm, you will experience the symptoms (headache, dizziness, and nausea) within a minute or two. You may lose consciousness or die within 10-15 minutes.
12,800 ppm concentration is the highest. You may lose consciousness or die after one to three minutes of exposure.
As the year is about to end, we are also ushering in a winter season which will demand us to keep as warm as possible. While you may want to use heaters to warm the house, they may put you at risk as they may lead to CO buildup.
Having a carbon monoxide detector at home will help you detect the presence of harmful CO gas. There are simple preventive measures that can save you from carbon monoxide poisoning, so
Can Opening a Window Stop Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
It won’t stop the poisoning. Instead, it only slows down the process.
Check out for signs such as dizziness, stomach upset, chest tightness, sleepy feeling, confusion, irritability, and reduced judgment, as they may indicate CO poisoning in the house.
One of the critical preventive measures is installing the CO detector, which will alert you if the CO levels are higher than usual.