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How to protect your family from the 'silent killer'
Although much has been said concerning the dangers of carbon monoxide, the alarming truth is that relatively few Americans have actually made the necessary precautions to keep their families safe. - photo by Tyler Stahle
Carbon monoxide might be termed the silent killer, but it certainly isnt a silent problem.

The deadly fumes made news again this week, claiming the lives of a single father and his seven children in their Maryland home on Monday.

Although much has been said concerning the dangers of carbon monoxide, the alarming truth is that relatively few Americans have actually made the necessary precautions to keep their families safe.

According to research performed by the American Lung Association, 450 Americans die each year from carbon monoxide poisoning, while another 50,000 are hospitalized after experiencing dangerous amounts of the gas.

Through better education, increased awareness and relatively simple protective measures, many lives can be saved.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless and odorless toxic gas that is produced instantly whenever fuel is burned in automobiles, small engines, fireplaces or furnaces. In a home, appliances such as gas-powered furnaces, water heaters or generators can become faulty and leak the deadly gas.

Because of the gas colorless and odorless properties, CO can build up inside a home or a car without detection, eventually poisoning those who live within. The inhalation of CO restricts oxygen in the bodys bloodstream and ultimately suffocates the victim.

Although everyone is susceptible to CO poisoning, the elderly, infants and people with chronic heart disease are at greater risk of getting sick.

How do I know if I have CO poisoning?

Symptoms of CO poisoning are considered to be similar to those of the flu. According to Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness and dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Shortness of breath
Of course, almost everyone has experienced these symptoms at some point in their lives, and this doesnt necessarily mean you have CO poisoning. However, if you experience these symptoms regularly while at home, you could be suffering from a low to moderate amount of CO exposure.

The CDC notes that people who are sleeping or drunk can die from CO poisoning before any of these symptoms are even exhibited.

How can I prevent CO poisoning from happening?

Every home should have smoke detectors, and CO detectors are equally as valuable. For homes with multiple levels, place at least one CO alarm on each level, including the basement and the garage.

Luckily, CO alarms arent hard to find. In most cases, youll find one at your nearest hardware or home-improvement store. Prices range from about $20 to $40. Alarms may also be purchased online.

According to, experts recommend placing your CO detector away from cooking appliances and furnaces to avoid false alarms. The National Fire Protection Agency suggests placing CO detectors outside the doors of bedrooms.

Smoke detectors are placed at ceiling levels in homes because smoke rises. Carbon monoxide, however, mixes with air and wont rise much higher than the height of your bed. For that reason, Safe Sound Family says placing your CO detectors at knee level is ideal.

While its easy to set up your CO detector, its also easy to forget about it. Dont. Experts recommend testing your detector every month and changing the batteries every six months.

What should I do if I am affected?

If your CO detector sounds off in your home, be sure to do the following:

  • Check yourself and family members for early CO poisoning symptoms.
  • If symptoms are present, quickly get out of the house, call 911 and seek medical attention.
  • You can call the American Association of Poison Control Centers at any time, day or night, at 1-800-222-1222 or visit them online at
  • If symptoms are not present, open all windows and doors to ventilate the home and turn off all appliances that could be leaking CO.
  • Have your appliances checked by a technical professional yearly.