You can’t see it. You can’t smell it. You’ve probably never thought about it.
But make no mistake: it’s out there. And it could kill you.
It can be neither seen nor smelled, which is why carbon monoxide (CO) is known as the silent killer. It can overcome its victims undetected.
Warning signs of CO include:
- Loose, disconnected, water-streaked or rusty chimney vents
- CO alarm sounds
- Discolouration of fuel-burning appliances or heating system warm air vents
- Window condensation
- Sick or dying pets or plants
- Soot build-up or discolouration on fireplaces
If you suspect CO exposure
- Get outside immediately.
- Once safety outdoors, call 9-1-1 for help, once safely outdoors.
- Seek immediate medical attention. CO poisoning can be fatal if left untreated. A doctor can order a blood test to measure the amount of carbon monoxide in your blood. If it is high, you may require oxygen therapy to reduce CO levels -- either through a mask or via a hyperbaric chamber
Here’s the good news: preventing CO poisoning is not overly difficult. In fact, there are two simple actions that can prevent the vast majority of poisoning incidents:
- Schedule an annual appliance inspection – contact a licensed gas contractor to take a look at your gas appliances (your stove, furnace, fireplace, etc.) and venting systems to confirm they’re in good working order. Use our Find a Contractor tool to find a licensed gas fitter near you.
- Install a certified CO detector – Choose one with a mark from a Canadian-certification body. Put it in the hallway outside your bedrooms and on each level of your home. If your detector isn’t hardwired, check your batteries twice a year. And, if it’s more than seven years old (check the end of life date), get a new one. Units with sealed lithium batteries require no battery replacement or maintenance. If you rent and there is no CO detector hardwired in, purchase a plug-in or battery-operated carbon monoxide detector. It could save your life!
So, how do you know if you or someone else has been poisoned by CO? Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning look a lot like a flu. They include:
- chest pain
As CO builds up in the bloodstream, symptoms change. Look out for:
- confusion and drowsiness
- fast breathing, fast heartbeat, or chest pain
- vision problems
If you believe you’re being poisoned by CO, or if your detector goes off, move immediately to fresh air. Go outside if you can. If you can’t, move next to an open window or an open door. Don’t return to the area until you’re sure it’s safe—if you’re not sure, wait for the fire department or your gas provider to tell you everything is OK.
It's important to be aware of how CO can endanger our lives, and take active steps to prevent it from harming our families and pets.