February 26, 2018

Install carbon monoxide detectors for your best defense.


More than 25 years ago, I attended a funeral I will never forget.

It was for a co-worker of my Dad’s. I didn’t know her, but the image of three caskets in a row is burned into my memory. The family had died of carbon monoxide poisoning right after Christmas. The father was found on the stairs, Christmas ornaments that he must have been carrying up to the attic broken all around him. The mother and daughter (just a few years younger than I) were found in their beds.

Now I am a mom myself and you can bet I have a carbon monoxide detector in my home.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that can cause sudden illness and death. Carbon monoxide is made through the incomplete burning of various fuels. Common household sources of carbon monoxide include gas or oil furnaces, gas refrigerators, gas clothes dryers, gas ranges, gas water heaters or space heaters, fireplaces, charcoal grills and wood-burning stoves. Many of these are used more often in the winter, making carbon monoxide risk higher during this time. If a car or gas-powered lawn mower engine is left running in an attached garage, these fumes (which contain carbon monoxide) can enter a home through walls or doorways.

The best way to keep your family safe is to install carbon monoxide detectors, which sound if the gas is present in your home. Homes should have an alarm near all sleeping areas, and at least 15 feet away from any fuel-burning appliances.

When people inhale carbon monoxide, the gas replaces the oxygen in their bloodstream. This can cause them to suddenly become ill, slip into a coma, suffer brain damage or even die. More than 20,000 Americans seek emergency medical treatment for carbon monoxide poisoning each year.

Carbon monoxide affects children the fastest. Symptoms include chest pain, difficulty breathing, dizziness, headaches, nausea and loss of consciousness. If you believe anyone in your family has inhaled carbon monoxide, remove the person from the area of possible exposure and call Tennessee Poison Center immediately (1-800-222-1222) to determine your next steps. Doctors usually treat patients with oxygen and medication. The sooner treatment begins, the lower the risk for permanent damage.

Here are a few more tips for protecting your family:

  • Test your carbon monoxide alarm monthly.
  • Have gas, oil or coal-burning appliances, chimneys and fireplaces checked by a professional every year.
  • Do not use a stove or oven to heat your home.
  • Never use a grill, generator or camping stove inside your home, garage or basement.
  • Do not leave your car or motorcycle engine running inside a garage, even with the garage door open.

Jessica Turner is a mom of three, author and member of Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s content team. She also blogs at The Mom Creative. 


Carbon monoxide alarms are available at your local hardware store.