Carbon Monoxide or CO is a byproduct of incomplete combustion and has a greater affinity for the red blood cell than does oxygen aka O2. So, you are probably asking yourself, “What does that mean?????” Funny you should ask, time to learn., so if you are zoning out, zone back in for a few minutes, this is lifesaving material.
The Red Blood Cell (RBC) has hemoglobin molecules attached to it and those molecules typically carry the oxygen we inhale to the entire body. We need O2 to stay alive. Hemoglobin knows that is their primary job, and they do it very well, however, they don’t necessarily recognize oxygen, but instead they just pick up a molecule and transport it. This is where the CO molecule has the greater affinity for that hemoglobin than oxygen does. In other words, CO pushes O2 out of the way and jumps on the roller coaster ride throughout your body. Obviously, you know what happens next….. you become hypoxic, or deprived of oxygen. Without oxygen, our cells die, then our organs, then our organ systems, and eventually the person as a whole. Scary??? Yes, of course it is, this is serious stuff!
So, now that you know how CO poisoning occurs let’s talk a bit about how to prevent it.
CO is also known as the “Silent Killer”, this is because you cannot smell it, taste it, or see it. CO is a tasteless/odorless gas, and as I mentioned earlier, is a byproduct of combustion, or the process of burning. The primary source of this gas comes from incomplete combustion, such as that from a gasoline or fossil fueled motor(s). When exhaust is permitted to enter a confined area without proper ventilation, such as a garage, house, or other structure it accumulates and immediately begins to affect the living organism, even in very small doses. CO is measured in parts per million or PPM and can only be detected with a monitor designed to do so. But…. Even without a monitor (which are cheap and available at most home improvement stores, and we recommend that all homes and businesses have at least one) you can utilize some clues that may help you to detect or prevent the presence of this killer gas. Never utilize a gas fired appliance in an enclosed area, make sure that chimneys, furnaces, and hot water tanks have been and are properly ventilated. This means periodically checking to be certain that bees, birds, and other wildlife or materials have not blocked these pipes from exhausting the byproducts they are designed to ventilate out of the structure. A big one that we hear about and have seen locally is running generators in the garage or outdoors near an air intake or ventilation port for a building when the power goes out. Nobody wants their generator stolen, so they think putting it in the garage, or enclosed patio, and shutting the door to hide it is a good idea. ((((WRONG)))), this is a terrible idea!!! Instead leave the generator outdoors and chain or lock it to an object for security. This will allow the exhaust to ventilate freely into the air and not accumulate in an enclosed space.
Being cognizant of these simple actions or lack thereof can most likely save a life and prevent someone from becoming ill. Below, we have listed some of the common signs and symptoms of CO poisoning:
- Headaches, possibly dull
- Tiredness, drowsiness, fatigue
- Nausea or vomiting
- Shortness of breath
- Blurred vision
- Loss of consciousness
These can be especially dangerous to those who are sleeping or intoxicated and may be unaware of the poisoning taking effect on their person. Another key indicator may be if you are experiencing any of these symptoms and you feel better after leaving the home.
Call 911 immediately should you experience any of these signs or symptoms and believe that they may be related to Carbon Monoxide poisoning.
If you suspect CO may be present, immediately remove yourself from the area, turn off the suspected source and ventilate with fresh air until the area can be tested and checked for residual gas.
Stay safe and stay informed. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact our Firehouse (330)448-1000.