There’s a reason people should never leave cars running in a closed garage—doing so can be deadly. That’s because car exhaust fumes emit carbon monoxide (CO). It is an odorless and colorless gas that replaces oxygen in the blood when inhaled. The results is less oxygen getting to the brain and other tissues in the body. Carbon monoxide forms when fuels such as gasoline, kerosene, oil, charcoal, or wood fail to burn completely. Thus, the toxic gas is found in fumes from fuel burning in cars and trucks, powerboats, as well as small engines, stoves, gas ranges, grills, fireplaces, furnaces and lanterns.

Although carbon monoxide poisoning is preventable, many people don’t realize the things they do every day that may put them at risk. Several people on the East Coast died from carbon monoxide poisoning after a snowstorm in early 2016. Some of the victims tried to warm up in a running car with the tailpipe covered by snow. Every year, over 400 Americans die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning not linked to fires. More than 20,000-plus people make emergency room visits. While more than 4,000 people are hospitalized.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide poisoning symptoms include dizziness, confusion, weakness, upset stomach, vomiting and chest pain. If asleep or less aware, you might die before you even notice the symptoms, according to the CDC. People with breathing problems, chronic heart disease, anemia, and infants and the elderly are particularly at risk for CO poisoning. CO can harm unborn babies, as well. CO poisoning can cause fatigue in otherwise healthy people. It can cause chest pain for those with heart disease at lower concentrations, as well as impaired vision and reduced brain function at moderate levels, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency.

Even if someone inhales an amount of CO that isn’t deadly, it could still permanently damage the heart and brain. This is especially if the person breathing it has heart or lung disease. “Carbon monoxide in the air rapidly enters all parts of the body, including blood, brain, heart, and muscles when you breathe,” according to the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. “The carbon monoxide in your body leaves through your lungs when you breathe out (exhale), but there is a delay in eliminating carbon monoxide. It takes about a full day for carbon monoxide to leave your body.” If it is not clear that someone has carbon monoxide poisoning while being treated, a medical professional may take a blood sample to confirm the diagnosis.

Carbon Monoxide Prevention

Inside homes, carbon monoxide can be released by improperly adjusted appliances. Help prevent CO poisoning by ensuring your appliances are installed correctly, and have your heating system, water heater, coal, oil and gas appliances serviced annually by professionals. Do not use gas ranges or ovens for heating to prevent CO levels from building up. Always be mindful about the importance of ventilation while using gas-powered tools or appliances. And never use a generator inside your garage or home, whether the windows and doors are open or not.

The CDC says generators should be used outside of your house, carport, garage, and/or basement. They should be at least 20 feet away from any vent, window or door. Because chimneys can become blocked, have chimneys checked or cleaned annually. To prevent carbon monoxide poisoning while camping, do not cook inside tents or try to heat tents, campers, RVs or enclosed areas by using portable stoves, fuel burners or lanterns. Never burn charcoal or use portable flameless chemical heaters indoors. When a covered cooking area is needed, only do so in a space with air circulation.


Symptoms of altitude sickness are comparable to those of carbon monoxide poisoning. So campers should take extra care to reduce risk factors to avoid a potential deadly mix-up. Keep in mind ways to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning while on or near gas-powered boats, such as having appliances checked and not idling the engine as well. Do not block exhaust outlets. The CDC recommends ensuring your boat is a minimum of 20 feet away from nearby boats running a generator or engine.

Preventing carbon monoxide poisoning also involves detecting the gas when it accumulates. Install a carbon monoxide detector that is battery-operated, especially near sleeping areas. Install a back-up detector as well. Check detectors regularly to ensure they work. “Consider buying a detector with a digital readout,” the CDC website recommends. “This detector can tell you the highest level of CO concentration in your home in addition to alarming. Replace your CO detector every five years.” If you feel you may have carbon monoxide poisoning or are experiencing symptoms, leave the area immediately and seek fresh air. Call 911 or visit the emergency room.

This article is from a previous issue of Survivor’s Edge. Grab your copy at

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