Guard against carbon monoxide poisoning

Guard against carbon monoxide poisoning

June is National Safety Month. Learn what you can do to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning, an invisible threat that can cause severe illness and even death.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a gas that you can’t see, smell or taste. It is produced by burning fuel such as:

  • Gas
  • Oil
  • Kerosene
  • Wood
  • Charcoal

Carbon monoxide can easily pass through drywall and leak from one area of your home to another. You can also be exposed to it outside in covered areas such as on an enclosed porch or under a tent.

The following fuel-burning items can produce carbon monoxide at dangerous levels:

  • Cars, trucks and other vehicles, especially if left idling in an enclosed garage
  • Boats and jet skis left running, even outside
  • Charcoal grills used in enclosed spaces
  • Water heaters
  • Ovens
  • Space or wall heaters
  • Portable generators

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning?

Carbon monoxide attaches to red blood cells in the same spot where oxygen would normally attach. This deprives the brain and other vital organs of oxygen. In the United States, hundreds of people die every year from carbon monoxide poisoning and thousands become seriously ill, often with long-term consequences.

Signs of poisoning include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion
  • Drowsiness
  • Rapid heartbeat or chest pain
  • Seizures

If you’re experiencing symptoms, immediately leave the area of exposure, get to a well-ventilated area and dial 911 for medical attention.

When not treated right away, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to persistent problems that include:

  • Headaches
  • Motor weakness
  • Balance problems
  • Vision difficulties
  • Hearing loss
  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Increased risk of heart damage
  • Cognitive problems
  • Anxiety or depression

How can I prevent poisoning?

Taking the simple precautions below can help you avoid carbon monoxide poisoning:

  • Install carbon monoxide detectors in your home to warn you when the gas is present at dangerous levels. Most newer homes and apartments are equipped with carbon monoxide detectors, and they also are available at home improvement stores. Alarms should be checked regularly to ensure they are working properly and have working batteries.
  • Never let a car or other vehicle run in the garage without adequate ventilation, like an open garage door.
  • Don’t use gas or charcoal grills indoors or in covered areas.
  • Don’t swim near a jet ski or boat that is left running.
  • Never use portable generators indoors, regardless of how well a space is ventilated.
  • In open areas, allow at least 20 feet of space between yourself and running generators or space heaters.
  • Schedule yearly inspections for home heating systems such as oil- or gas-fed furnaces or space heaters.

Get more safety and personal preparedness tips on our UCLA Health Emergency Preparedness page at

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