Carbon monoxide is a tasteless, colorless and odorless gas. In the home, carbon monoxide is most commonly found when fossil fuels are not completely burned. Carbon monoxide is a byproduct that comes from incomplete burning of fuels like wood, coal and propane. Improper installation of appliances and improper ventilation can cause carbon monoxide levels to rise in the home. Carbon monoxide can be deadly to humans and animals, but there are many signs of carbon monoxide exposure.
Carbon monoxide exposure can often cause those exposed to believe they are suffering from an illness like the flu or food poisoning. Carbon monoxide poisoning can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea and cramping.
In the Brain
Continuous exposure to carbon monoxide in the home can cause damage to the brain that can result in memory loss. Exposure to carbon monoxide can also cause confusion, depression and dementia.
Carbon monoxide limits the amount of oxygen the blood can carry to different parts of the body. This lack of oxygen can cause those exposed to feel tired or sluggish and may affect motor skills.
Carbon monoxide easily attaches to hemoglobin in the blood. Hemoglobin more readily accepts carbon monoxide than oxygen, and when this happens a toxic compound forms (carboxyhemoglobin) in the body. With high levels of exposure, the carboxyhemoglobin causes unconsciousness.
What to Do?
If symptoms arise that may be caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, the home must be quickly ventilated with fresh air. Carbon monoxide detectors can also help alert homeowners to high carbon monoxide levels.