Preventing Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

You can’t see, hear, smell, or taste carbon monoxide. But if it’s in the air around you, it can be deadly. Too much carbon monoxide can block oxygen from connecting in your blood.

It is important to know the steps you can take to avoid this gas and keep you and your family safe.

Carbon Monoxide in the Air

Carbon monoxide is a gas that is can be found anywhere that fuel is burned. Common devices that release carbon monoxide include:

  • Cars and trucks
  • Small engines
  • Stoves
  • Lanterns
  • Grills
  • Fireplaces
  • Gas ranges
  • Heating systems

These devices only become dangerous when:

  • Devices are not working correctly.
  • Fumes created by the devices are not passed into open air.
  • Devices are used in enclosed spaces like a garage or building.

If carbon monoxide builds up to unhealthy levels it becomes a danger to anyone who breathes it in. The longer someone spends in this air the worse the damage may be.

Reduce Your Chance of Exposure

Identify items in and around your house from the list above. Understand the proper use and dangers of each device. Only buy and use equipment that carries the seal of the American Gas Association or the Underwriters' Laboratory.

Proper maintenance and use include:

  • Have an expert check your fireplace chimney every year. Debris can block vents that normally let carbon monoxide pass out of the house.
  • Have a professional check your gas and kerosene appliances before the start of the heating season.
  • Make sure all gas and combustion appliances are vented to the outdoors. Make sure the pipes that vent the air are in good shape and do not have holes.
  • Do not use your gas stove or oven for heating your house.
  • Do not use a barbecue grill, camp stove, or unvented kerosene heater inside your house or tent.
  • Do not use generators or other gasoline-powered engines indoors.
  • Car safety steps include:
  • Ask a mechanic to check your car's exhaust system every year.
  • Do not run your car in the garage, especially with the door closed. Start the car and take it outside.
  • Do not leave the door from the garage to the house open when the car engine is running.
  • A carbon monoxide detector is an important tool for your home. It will alert you to dangerous levels of the gas in your home. Follow the manufacturer's directions to know how many you will need for you home and what the best placement is. The alarm will also need to be checked regularly to make sure it is still working.

Know the Signs

Symptoms of a carbon monoxide poisoning resemble the flu. It can cause headache, lightheadedness, weakness, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Eventually it will cause unconsciousness.

If you think you have carbon monoxide poisoning, then:

  1. Move away from the source of the carbon monoxide.
  2. Breathe fresh air outdoors. Mild symptoms usually start to resolve after getting away from the gas.
  3. Seek medical care at the closest emergency room.

If a carbon monoxide alarm sounds:

  • Turn off any possible sources of carbon monoxide.
  • Open windows to allow fresh air.
  • Call a technician to fix problem device.
  • If anyone has the symptoms above, seek medical help.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


Public Health Agency of Canada


Carbon monoxide poisoning. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: Updated June 1, 2015. Accessed February 20, 2017.
Carbon monoxide toxicity. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated March 30, 2016. Accessed February 20, 2017.
Last reviewed June 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated 6/22/2017

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