Carbon Monoxide: Everything You Need to Know About the Silent Killer

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a dangerous gas that kills quickly and silently. The name “silent killer” was created to characterise this odourless, tasteless, colourless, non-irritating gas. If individuals are exposed to the gas in high concentrations or ignore it, they may be unable to escape as they lose consciousness.

When it comes to death by poison, carbon monoxide exposure is a common cause, but those deaths are preventable. Here in this guide, Australian Dynamic Technology present everything you need to know about this silent killer.

What Is CO?


Carbon Monoxide is a gas, and it is present both indoors and outdoors. Carbon monoxide is produced as a result of burning certain fuels, including natural gas, wood, propane, oil, coal, kerosene, and petrol. Outdoors, carbon monoxide is most commonly produced by vehicle exhaust emissions. Indoors, CO is produced by appliances using fuels. For example, a gas cooker can produce CO.

Typically, indoor air levels for carbon monoxide should be below nine parts per million over an 8-hour time frame and under 25 parts per million over a one-hour time frame. One part per million equals one part carbon monoxide per million parts of air.

Every year, people are hospitalised due to carbon monoxide poisoning. Most commonly, the poison is the result of a fire or other fuel-burning sources. The exposure and poisoning most often happen in the home.

More to Know about CO Sources

Carbon monoxide can derive from a number of sources and therefore presents a risk to all people. Some common sources include household appliances, vehicles, boats, and more.

Misused or malfunctioning appliances that burn fuel are very common causes of CO poisoning in the home. This includes appliances like water heaters, furnace, gas grills, non-electric kitchen ranges, and certain non-electric space heaters.

Normal usage of these appliances won’t necessarily cause dangerous levels of carbon monoxide emissions. However, if the CO-producing items are not in a properly ventilated area or cared for properly, it can lead to CO build-up in that space.  An example of this is a gas grill in a semi-enclosed porch space. Always make sure these appliances are maintained properly and well ventilated.

What Is the Cause of CO Poisoning?

Carbon monoxide acts as a stifle to oxygen. It poisons the body by preventing it from receiving the necessary oxygen. When CO is breathed in, it attaches itself to haemoglobin, the molecule responsible for carrying oxygen in the blood. When more is breathed in, carbon monoxide continues to attach, which results in less oxygen being circulated in the body. The results are CO poisoning symptoms.

What Does CO Poisoning Look Like?

In some instances, CO poisoning is mistaken for the early stages of flu. Depending on concentration levels and length of exposure, it is possible to experience these symptoms:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Chest tightness
  • Muscle control loss
  • Sleepiness
  • Redness of skin
  • Slowed reaction time
  • Shortness of breath
  • Changes in vision
  • Confusion

If multiple household residents exhibit these signs and show improvement after being away from the area for a period of time, CO poisoning might be at play. If CO levels are dangerously high or individuals are exposed too long, it can suffocate people, resulting in brain damage, unconsciousness, or death.

Early symptoms of CO poisoning might be confused with flu symptoms.  There are a few indicators that help to differentiate between the flu and CO poisoning:

  • Multiple people are sick simultaneously (the flu takes more time to pass around)
  • Symptoms get worse when using a fuel-burning entity (like a vehicle, gas range, etc.)
  • Symptoms dissipate after leaving a certain area and come back when in that area

What to Do if You Suspect Potential CO Poisoning

The most important step if you suspect CO poisoning is just to leave the location. Go outside to breathe in fresh air and ensure your lungs are breathing in clean oxygen. If you can, turn off any appliances that are non-electrical and leave all doors open as you leave.  

At this point, once you are safe, contact the local fire department, gas company, and potentially a heating contractor. The experts can determine if CO is present in your home. Remember, CO is odourless, and continued exposure can result in confusion that leads to poor decision making. It’s important to act fast.



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