January 01, 2019

Carbon monoxide

Preventing poisoning

Your new car came with a fun new feature — keyless ignition. While this may be convenient, it carries an under recognized risk. You're more likely to accidentally leave your car running once parked in a garage, which means a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

An odorless gas

Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless and tasteless gas that's produced when fuel is incompletely burned. It can be emitted from cars or trucks, small engines, stoves and gas ranges, grills, fireplaces, furnaces, or any fuel-burning appliance. Carbon monoxide that you breathe in combines with the hemoglobin in red blood cells. This prevents the hemoglobin from also combining with oxygen, which reduces the supply of oxygen to your tissues and organs. Exposure to carbon monoxide is usually low, for example, when a vehicle is operating in open air and when your furnace is operating properly. But with enough buildup in an enclosed space, the gas can quickly become deadly.

Signs of poisoning

A challenge of recognizing carbon monoxide poisoning is that initial symptoms are often nonspecific and similar to that of the flu — but without a fever. Signs and symptoms that accompany low to moderate levels of exposure often include:

  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

At higher or prolonged exposure, the warning signs and consequences become more severe, including: