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Carbon monoxide (CO) is the number one cause of poisoning deaths in the United States. According to the Mayo Clinic, CO poisoning each year affects at least 10,000 Americans. While anyone is susceptible, experts agree that unborn babies, small children, senior citizens and people with heart or respiratory problems are especially vulnerable to CO and are at the greatest risk for death or serious injury.
Inside your home, appliances used for heating and cooking are the most likely sources of carbon monoxide. Vehicles running in attached garages can also produce dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
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Carbon monoxide (CO) is an odorless, colorless, poisonous gas created when any fuel is burned, such as:
When the amount of air available for combustion is limited, more CO is produced. Serious problems can develop when combustion by-products are not properly vented outside the house. A by-product of combustion, carbon monoxide can be a potential problem from a number of common sources:
When you breathe carbon monoxide, it enters your bloodstream through your lungs and attaches to red blood cells. These red blood cells, called hemoglobin, carry oxygen throughout, our body. Carbon monoxide molecules attach to the red blood cells 200 times faster than oxygen does, preventing the flow of oxygen to your heart, brain and vital organs. As carbon monoxide accumulates in your blood stream, your body becomes starved for oxygen.
The early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are often mistaken for the flu:
Breathing very high concentrations of carbon monoxide can be lethal in minutes. Breathing low concentrations over time can be lethal or cause permanent heart and brain damage.
Your first line of defense should be a carbon monoxide (CO) detector. You can purchase one for your home at nearly any multipurpose or hardware store. In addition, you should have an annual inspection and regular maintenance of your appliances. Contact a licensed contractor in your area to acquire these services.
Also, you should know the possible sources of CO in your home. Keep fuel-burning appliances and their chimneys and vents in good working condition. Learn the early symptoms of exposure, and if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, move outside to fresh air and get emergency help immediately.