Complete Guide to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

 Complete Guide to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

We had recently noticed that a post we wrote previously here “How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning” has been really popular with our readers. As we read through it we noticed one major thing, it’s time for an update!

We are not exactly a stupid species. We know that death could be just around every corner. We could have a heart attack walking to the shop or choke on our food with nobody around. It will happen when we all least expect it and in most cases, we understand those risks and we continue on our way.

We know what we can and can’t do around certain things such as not smoking around gas canisters and most of us have a general idea of how we are to respond during these types of events. But what if you don’t even know what the danger is?

It could even be affecting you now and you wouldn’t even realise.

Enter the Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide has been named the Silent Killer and for good reason. You would never even realise how much danger you were in.

You can’t see it, you can’t taste it and you can’t smell it. A carbon monoxide detector is THE only way to know about a leak as it will sound an alarm when the concentration level becomes too high.

You could also find out about a leak when you start having symptoms too, but by then, it is oftentimes too late. Catching the symptoms early is key. These could be headaches, dizziness, nausea, rapid heartbeat and chest pains.

Is CO and CO² the Same Thing?

Both CO and CO² (carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide) are very different even though they are often mistaken for being the same thing. If we look at the image below (provided by all the you will see just how different they are for yourself.

We can see that while they may both be made up of the same elements, this is the only way that they come even close to each other.

The exact composition of a substance matters a great deal when it comes to chemical reactions. H2O, for instance, is pure, healthy water, while H2O2 will burn your skin and sometimes, even explode!

Sources of Carbon Monoxide

Carbon monoxide is created whenever something is burning but isn’t receiving enough oxygen. While there are natural sources of this gas, most carbon monoxide poisoning incidents are happening right in the home. Some of the reasons include:

  1. Smoke Inhalation – if there has been some form of fire and anybody suffers with the effects of smoke inhalation, they could have carbon monoxide poisoning.
  2. Using Engines in Enclosed Spaces – it doesn’t matter what kind of engine you are running, car, generator, compressor, or something else, be smart and use proper ventilation.
  3. Malfunctioning Devices – malfunctioning heating devices have been found to be the leading cause of carbon monoxide in the home. In fact, a third of all cases can be tracked back to a heating system.
  4. Fireplaces and Stoves – these are another big one when it comes to making sure that you use the correct ventilation for the job. It doesn’t matter what you’re burning, it will produce CO which you don’t want building up indoors.
  5. Smoking – this is where I am likely to fail as I have been a long-term smoker. Most cases of carbon monoxide poisoning are preventable whereas smoking is an almost deliberate act of carbon monoxide poisoning. If you smoke you are likely to have twice or more the normal amount of CO in your bloodstream, at all times!

What Happens to the Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Victim?

This would depend entirely on exposure levels however there are stages that patients will go through. CO removes the body’s ability to transport oxygen. It starts off by attacking the red blood cells leaving them unable to do their job. Because of this, your cells and organs can’t  work as they should.

If left untreated and exposure continues, there could be as many as 50% of your red blood cells that have been affected. If this happens then the patient is likely to die. Quick medical attention is required immediately.

When patients are given pure oxygen to breathe, it usually takes the body about 24 hours to expel all the CO from their blood – carbon monoxide is very quick to attach itself to blood cells, but slow to leave.
It has been known to leave some victims with long-term effects. These effects have included:

  • Impaired memory
  • Heart problems
  • Hearing loss

If you do suffer exposure then it helps if you know what levels you were exposed to:

  1. Chronic exposure – long term/low levels
  2. Acute exposure – brief but intense

While chronic exposure may only be low levels it can still be very damaging to your body, especially to the heart and nervous system.

What Are The Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

If you’re reading this then chances are you are either worried about somebody or doing research for your knowledge library, either way, this is the place you need to be.

It’s very sad when you actually sit back and think about the victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. They could be innocently doing their jobs around the home one minute unaware of what is just minutes away from happening.

I remember hearing a story on the news when I was growing up about a family of four who had gone and stayed in a hotel somewhere on vacation. They were found dead the following morning, all still in their beds by what was believed to be carbon monoxide poisoning. I will try to find the story and link out to it for you. <- only bold so I remember when I read this back.

The symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning will usually happen in a specific order, increasing as the exposure increases. If you spot the symptoms below in the following order, leave the area!

Image by

Who is Most at Risk of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

There isn’t a single one of us that are ‘immune’ and we are all ‘at risk‘. This being said, some of us could be more at risk due to certain things such as our medications. Those considered to be most at risk include:

  • Existing heart conditions
  • Children are affected more than adults
  • Pregnant women need to be especially careful
  • Those with breathing problems
  • Those who drink and take drugs

The reason for the last one is that when there is a leak, someone who is intoxicated will more than likely sleep through.

How to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

It all comes down to what preparation strategies we put in place. If we don’t prepare then we can’t prevent. If we don’t prevent then we can’t survive.

Here are your most important steps to preventing carbon monoxide poisoning:

Get a detector: I know this sounds obvious but I am surprised to hear about just how many people do not have carbon monoxide detectors installed in the home. You should have one detector installed on every floor of the house which will sound an alarm when it detects a critically high concentration of CO. Carbon monoxide detectors are cheap and providing that you remember to change the batteries, they last forever! One thing I do want to quickly mention is that they are made to look much more stylish than they used to be, too.

Have appliances inspected: this includes any fuel-burning appliance that you own. These should be inspected once a year by a trained professional.

If you have a chimney: I know not many people seem to have a chimney anymore but if you do, have the chimney cleaned at the start of winter.

Don’t use outdoors equipment indoors: certain equipment is made for outdoor use for a reason. It doesn’t matter if you’re using a grill or a generator, if it says use it outside, use it outside!

Open garage door before starting car: never, ever, ever start your vehicle in the garage whilst the door is still down. I know it can be tempting especially when it’s cold but it’s also very dangerous. When they are cold, the engines kick out a huge amount of carbon monoxide. This especially true if your garage is attached to the house. You might not be trying to kill yourself but you might be killing your wife in the kitchen with the fumes.

If the alarm sounds, leave and call in the professionals. Firefighters and utility company employees are trained and equipped to find carbon monoxide leaks, while you really need a doctor’s help even if your exposure wasn’t too severe.

As always, we thank you for taking the time to read this guide. If you liked it, please consider sharing it using the buttons below. If you scroll even further down you can find the links out to the UK Survival Guides official pages.

Be sure to check out the article I linked to at the beginning of this post as there are tips in that article that I haven’t included in this one, and vice versa. Should they be combined?

Share Your Thoughts

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.