Carbon monoxide is a highly toxic gas produced when organic matter is burned in an environment without sufficient oxygen. When inhaled, it enters the bloodstream and prevents red blood cells from carrying oxygen. Without oxygen, the cells die. Even non-lethal levels can cause grievous harm to the central nervous system and the heart.

Because carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless and tasteless, it may be hard to detect. But there are warning symptoms that are indicative of carbon monoxide poisoning. Knowing what they are could save your life.

Common Causes and Prevention of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

According to the CDC, more than 400 people die every year from unintentional carbon monoxide poisoning. During winter, poisoning can occur more frequently. This is due to people being indoors and using heating systems that pose a risk of leaking.  In fact, any fuel burning system can pose a CO poisoning risk. Heating methods that pose a risk include:

  • Furnaces
  • Chimneys
  • Wood-burning stoves
  • Fireplaces
  • Space heaters

Install CO Detectors

You’ll also want to keep in mind that CO poisoning can occur when you leave your car running in an enclosed space. For instance, this could happen in your garage. To prevent CO poisoning be sure to install a carbon monoxide detector in your home. These detectors are similar to smoke detectors in that they can be placed in any room of your house and run on batteries. After you install these detectors, you will want to make sure you maintain them regularly. Remember that every detector will need to be replaced at some point in time. You can find out how long yours will last by checking the packaging. You should also test your CO detector frequently. Generally, you can do this by using the test button on the detector.


A great time to remember to complete a CO detector check-up is the beginning and ending of Daylight Saving Time.

Common Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Carbon monoxide is a silent danger that can lurk in any home.  This makes knowing the symptoms essential. Symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Yawning
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Fast Breathing
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Chest pain
  • Vision problems
  • Ringing in ears
  • Seizures
  • Loss of Consciousness

What to Do If You Experience Signs of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

If you find yourself experiencing these symptoms, you should immediately follow these tips:

  • Move to fresh air immediately
  • Seek medical help right away—Call 911
  • Ventilate by opening windows
  • Turn off the source of CO poisoning if safe to do so

This information is intended to be general in nature. The Hartford does not provide medical advice or guidance. Please consult a physician to discuss your questions or concerns.