Ann Slattery is the Director of the Alabama Poison Information Center at Children’s of Alabama. She says it’s estimated that 500 people die from unintentional carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning every year. “Any time you have an appliance that uses natural gas, a kerosene heater or if there’s a garage attached to the home, or you have a fireplace you’re at risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. CO is produced when fuels like gasoline, propane, and kerosene are burned in an enclosed space or in areas without good air flow. CO does not occur naturally, it is a byproduct of combustion,” she says.
Slattery says the number of people who visit the emergency department due to carbon monoxide poisoning is very high. It’s estimated that 50,000 people a year are poisoned by carbon monoxide. Because it can be hard to detect and the symptoms vary and can mimic other illness such as a virus or food poisoning, one medical journal estimates the number to be as high as 200,000.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
Carbon monoxide poisoning is called the silent killer because it is:
Slattery says people often don’t realize dangerous levels of carbon monoxide are in the home. “It can make you drowsy,” she says. “Depending how high the levels are you can go to sleep. Or you may be asleep when the levels rise and not wake back up.” That’s why she strongly recommends carbon monoxide detectors throughout the home.
“If you have natural gas appliances, a garage, a kerosene heater or a fireplace you need a carbon monoxide detector,” she says. Slattery says homes should have multiple detectors in key locations. “You should have a carbon monoxide detector 10-15 feet away from the garage door, inside the home. There should be one 10-15 feet from the fireplace. And there should be a carbon monoxide detector on each level of the home and outside the bedrooms.”
Locations of Carbon Monoxide Detectors in the Home
- 10-15 feet from garage
- 10-15 feet from fireplace
- On each level of the home
- Outside the bedrooms
If you believe someone has been exposed to dangerous levels of carbon monoxide, leave the area immediately and call 911 or visit the nearest emergency department. For more information about carbon monoxide poisoning contact the Alabama Poison Information Center at 1-800-222-1222.