Skip to main content

Protect Your Loved Ones from Deadly Carbon Monoxide

By Carol Church, Writer, Family Album

Reviewed by Randall Cantrell, PhD, Department of Family, Youth, and Community Sciences, University of Florida

This past winter, during the coldest part of the year, a friend of mine who lives in Chicago was awakened by a piercing and unfamiliar alarm in the middle of the night. It took her and her family a few minutes to realize that the carbon monoxide detector they had installed not long ago was going off. Though everyone felt fine, they called the fire department to check on the situation. Their furnace was indeed malfunctioning. That carbon monoxide detector may have saved her family’s life.

What is Carbon Monoxide and What Are its Sources in the Home?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, a colorless, odorless, but poisonous gas, is produced by burning fuel. It can come from any fuel-burning device, including furnaces, portable heaters, generators, and even cars or barbecue grills. When appliances designed to be operated indoors are working correctly, they should not produce unsafe levels of CO. However, poorly functioning appliances or ones with obstructed ventilation can cause a CO problem. And running a car or generator, burning charcoal, or barbecuing inside an enclosed space (like a garage) is extremely dangerous.

Symptoms May be Acute or Vague

Carbon monoxide is known as a silent, invisible killer because it can cause people to quickly become confused, lose consciousness and succumb to death. However, lower levels of the gas can produce vague, confusing symptoms that people may attribute to other health problems—even the flu. You might experience shortness of breath, tiredness, headaches, nausea, and dizziness. If you suspect there could be a CO issue in your home and you have these symptoms, leave immediately and call 911.

Install Alarms to Protect Your Family

To keep your family safe from CO poisoning, install a CO detector outside every sleeping area of your house. If levels of CO get high enough to present a danger to your household, the alarm will sound, giving you warning that there is a problem, and plenty of time to get out. Remember to check your alarms regularly to ensure they’re working, and change the batteries at least once a year. It’s also a good idea to have your chimney and furnace serviced or checked every winter to ensure everything is in order.

Tragically, more than 150 people die every year in the US from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning. You can dramatically reduce your family’s risk by following these safety guidelines and installing a detector. For more, visit the resources in Further Reading.

Further Reading

Carbon Monoxide Information Center

CDC: Carbon Monoxide


Consumer Product Safety Commission. (2007). The invisible killer. Retrieved from

CPSC Blogger. (2014). Protect your family from deadly carbon monoxide this winter. Retrieved from

Consumer Product Safety Commission. (n.d.) Protect your family from carbon monoxide poisoning. Retrieved from–/

Photo Credits: romrodinka/iStock/Thinkstock