Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: How Does it Happen?
Carbon monoxide (CO) is dangerous because it’s odorless, colorless, and can be found in the fumes of various household appliances such as furnaces, fireplaces, and water heaters that aren’t ventilated properly.

When the CO builds up in your home or apartment, and you breathe it in, it binds to the hemoglobin in yourblood so that oxygen can’t get through to your body cells.

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when you breathe in carbon monoxide, which replaces oxygen in your bloodstream. If you don’t have enough oxygen, your body can’t get enough oxygen to your brain and other organs, and they start to fail. This can cause death if not treated quickly!

This post discusses explains how CO poisoning happens, first aid for carbon monoxide poisoning, and tips to prevent it.
What is Carbon Monoxide (CO)
Carbon monoxide is an odorless, colorless gas that is produced when burning fossil fuels. When too much CO builds up in the blood, it prevents the blood from carrying oxygen to the body’s organs and tissues.

This can lead to serious health problems, including death.
Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Statistics
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the leading cause of poisoning deaths in the United States, according to the CDC. A recent study found that more than 3,400 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning.

The majority of these deaths occur in homes, where people aren’t aware of the dangers they face. The CDC also states that elderly people are most at risk of dying from carbon monoxide poisoning because they have a harder time detecting its effects.

Carbon monoxide can be deadly if it’s not treated quickly enough. It’s odorless and colorless, so you may not even realize you’re being exposed to it until after it has already taken an effect on your body.
Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
With lower levels of exposure, symptoms may not show for hours or days. But even then, there are many signs of CO exposure to look out for, such as:

  • headaches or nausea
  • difficulty breathing
  • chest pain
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • heart palpitations
  • loss of consciousness
  • fatigue

If you notice any of these symptoms after being around any type of fire or using a gas stovetop indoors without proper ventilation, call 911 immediately and get outside as quickly as possible.
The Science of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: How CO Causes Poisoning
Over time, or even in a single instance, inhaling excessive amounts of smoke or CO causes your brain to suffer from oxygen deprivation. This leaves you feeling dizzy, confused, disoriented and lethargic – some symptoms mimic those of a hangover.

If left untreated, that same lack of oxygen starts to damage vital organs, leading to numerous internal complications. Excessive amounts of CO also change blood pressure, heart rate, and oxygen levels in your blood.

But that’s not all. When exposed to excess CO, one of your body’s natural reactions is to increase respiration in order to expel more of this poisonous gas. This is a bad thing because respiration increases your blood CO levels even higher, ultimately resulting in cardiac arrest.

The symptoms of heart failure include shortness of breath, palpitations, chest pain and even unconsciousness. Death from exposure to high levels of CO usually occurs within minutes.
What Causes Excess CO Production in Homes, Offices, and other Indoor Places
Carbon monoxide poisoning can result from breathing in too much carbon monoxide or excess smoke due to the burning of combustible materials, including wood, coal, natural gas, gasoline, oil, propane and kerosene; car exhaust fumes; faulty gas stoves and heaters; cigarette smoke and other tobacco products.

Common causes include:

  • Faulty or improperly used fuel-burning appliances, such as furnaces, water heaters, stoves, and fireplaces.
  • Incomplete combustion of natural gas produces CO. That’s why it’s important to have your furnace checked and serviced regularly.
  • Additionally, burning charcoal produces CO, so it’s important to use it safely. When using a grill, make sure to do so outdoors and away from any windows or doors.
  • If you have a fireplace in your home, only burn wood in the fireplace when the room is properly ventilated and there are no open flames present.
  • And lastly, when lighting candles at night – always use an appropriate candle holder that will not allow the flame to come into contact with anything else.

If you’re still concerned about excess CO levels in your home or office, it’s best to call an expert right away!
How Fast Can CO Poisoning Happen
Carbon-monoxide (CO) poisoning, it can be as deadly as in minutes. But the symptoms take 1-2 hrs. Inhalation of CO gas interferes with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen. So, the body tissues are deprived of oxygen and begin to die.

If you breathe in a lot of CO it can lead to more serious symptoms like chest pain, rapid heartbeat, shortness of breath, weakness, seizures, loss of consciousness, and eventually death.

Luckily, quick first aid for carbon monoxide poisoning can help revive a victim.
Tips to Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poison
Carbon monoxide poisoning is the third leading cause of unintentional deaths in the United States. Nearly 4,000 people die each year from CO poisoning. And over 100,000 people are treated in emergency rooms for CO exposure each year.

a carbon monoxide warning sign to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

Author credit: By Nydorf, Seymour, 1914-2001, Artist (NARA record: 8467706) – U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain,

Therefore, it’s best to prevent CO poisoning before it happens. Here are some ways to stay safe:

  1. Get your home’s heating system, water heater and any other gas, oil or coal burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  2. Make sure your home has at least one working smoke alarm on each level.
  3. Test your alarms monthly and replace them if they’re not working properly.
  4. Never use a generator, grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside your home, basement or garage or near a window.
  5. Don’t idle your car in an attached garage — even if you leave the door open.
  6. If you suspect CO poisoning, get out of the house immediately and call 911 or your local emergency number from a safe location.

In case of a fire, don’t go back in for pets or possessions. You should also have someone contact the utility company to shut off the power to your home until it’s confirmed that there is no longer a CO problem.
First Aid for Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?
If you think someone has been poisoned by carbon monoxide:

Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Then, get the person to fresh air right away. Go outside or to an open window or door. If the person is not breathing, start CPR.

You may want to give first aid before calling if you are trained and it is safe to do so.

If the person has a pulse but is not breathing, give rescue breaths. If you have CPR and first aid certification, give two rescue breaths after each 30 compressions.

If you see signs of another medical condition such as a heart attack, stroke, or seizure, call 911 or your local emergency number and ask for help with that condition while you wait for the ambulance.
How Does CPR Revive CO-Poisoning Victims
CPR will not revive a person who has died from CO poisoning. However, it may help a victim who has stopped breathing and does not have a pulse. If you are trained in CPR, you should provide compressions at a rate of 100-120 per minute and rescue breaths at a rate of 2 breaths per minute.

The goal is to get the victim to an emergency room as soon as possible so that they can receive treatment.

The chest compressions issued during CPR help with circulation and oxygenation. They also help maintain normal blood pressure and prevent additional tissue damage or brain injury due to lack of oxygen (i.e., lack of blood flow).

When the heart stops beating, chest compression keeps it pumping with enough force for adequate blood flow throughout the body (including important organs like the brain).

While this helps keep vital organs alive, there is still little chance for recovery if excessive smoke or CO gas levels are high enough to render victims unconscious before they lose consciousness from lack of oxygen (i.e., while their heart was still beating).
Last Words on Carbon Monoxide Poisoning
You may have heard that a fire cannot burn without oxygen. True enough, but it will still produce excessive smoke.

Anything that prevents oxygen from getting to a fire, such as dense materials or closed windows or doors, can allow dangerous amounts of excess smoke to build up inside your home or business.

Cooking on an electric stove also produces small amounts of CO gas at all times because of how it works; if you’ve ever felt exhausted after cooking on an electric stove for too long, now you know why! The smell of your food burning is actually CO being released into your kitchen’s air supply.