Children's Hospital Colorado

Carbon Monoxide Alarms Could Prevent Half of All CO Poisoning Deaths

A white carbon monoxide detector sits on the edge of a bed.

In colder weather, there is an increase in the number of fuel-burning appliances being used in the home as people turn on their heaters. These appliances include ovens, space heaters, generators, indoor grills and fireplaces, which can cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide (CO) to build up in the home.

“Carbon monoxide is an odorless, invisible gas, so it is crucial to have a carbon monoxide detector on every floor of your home” says Britney Lombard, Safe Kids Colorado coordinator. “Carbon monoxide is especially harmful to children, who are affected by smaller doses than adults. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning can include nausea, confusion, vomiting and headaches, but larger doses can be lethal.”

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, in 2017, poison control centers reported 3,248 cases of carbon monoxide exposure in children 19 and under.

Important safety tips to protect families from CO poisoning:

  • Prevent CO buildup in the first place – make sure heating appliances are in good working order and used only in well-ventilated areas.
  • Don’t run a car engine in the garage, even to warm it up; move the car outside first.
  • Install a CO alarm outside every sleeping area, on every level of your home and within 20 feet of any fuel-burning appliance.
  • When you check your smoke alarm batteries each month, check the batteries on your CO alarms at the same time – and replace the batteries twice a year.
  • Never use a stove for heating.
  • Have all gas-, oil- or coal-burning appliances inspected by a technician every year to ensure they’re working correctly and are properly ventilated.
  • If a CO leak is suspected, open windows to allow fresh air into the home. If someone who has been in a poorly ventilated room with a fuel-burning appliance exhibits symptoms including headache, fatigue, nausea, vomiting or confusion, move the victim to fresh air and call 911.

If more than one person in the home suddenly feels ill for no apparent reason or if a CO alarm goes off, get everyone outside immediately and call 911 from a pre-arranged meeting place.

“Carbon monoxide detectors can be found for around $15 to $30 each,” adds Lombard. "Some local fire departments may provide them for families who are unable to purchase them. This is an important precaution to take for your family's safety."

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