Promoting and protecting the health and safety of all Idahoans

Frequently Asked Questions about Carbon Monoxide

Click on the questions below to learn more about carbon monoxide.

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Carbon monoxide is an odorless and colorless gas that is harmful. When CO enters the body, it prevents the blood from bringing oxygen to cells, tissues and organs. Because it is impossible to see, taste or smell, CO can kill you before you are aware it is in your home. 

Any fuel burning appliance, vehicle, tool or other device can produce dangerous levels of CO gas. Examples of CO-producing items commonly used around the home include:

  • Gas (propane) furnaces and heaters

  • Gas water heaters

  • Fireplaces and woodstoves

  • Gas stoves

  • Gas dryers

  • Charcoal grills

  • Lawnmowers, snow blowers and other yard equipment

  • Automobiles

The initial symptoms of low to moderate CO poisoning are similar to the flu (but without the fever). They include:

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

  • Nausea

  • Dizziness

High level CO poisoning has more severe symptoms, including:
  • Mental confusion

  • Vomiting

  • Loss of muscular coordination

  • Loss of consciousness

  • Ultimately death

The amount of CO you’re exposed to influences the recovery and the damage done. If you or your family experience any of the above symptoms and believe you may have been exposed to CO, you should leave the house immediately and seek urgent medical advice from your doctor.

All people are at risk of having CO poisoning. Infants, people with chronic heart disease, anemia or respiratory problems are more sensitive to its harmful effects.

CO poisoning is preventable. To make sure that you and your family are safe from CO poisoning:

  • Install a CO detector near all sleeping areas in your home. Replace the battery regularly.

  • If the detector alarm sounds, leave your home immediately and call 9-1-1.

  • Never use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove or other gasoline or charcoal burning device inside your home, basement, garage, near a window or under a tent.

  • Never use a gas cooking range or oven to heat your home.

  • Never run a car or truck inside a garage even if the door is left open.

  • Make sure that stove pipes and other types of vents are tightly joined and not cracked or rusty.

  • Seek prompt medical attention if you suspect CO poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.

If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of CO poisoning, get fresh air immediately. Leave your home and call 911 to report your symptoms and the possibility of CO exposure. If you do not have a cell phone to make the call, ask a neighbor if you can use their phone.  You could lose consciousness and die if you stay in the home. It is also important to contact a doctor immediately or go to the emergency room for a proper diagnosis. Tell your doctor that you suspect CO poisoning is causing your symptoms. Quick medical attention is important if you are experiencing any symptoms of CO poisoning. If the doctor confirms CO poisoning, make sure a qualified service person checks the appliances for proper operation before using them.

If you have more questions about CO, please call the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Indoor Environment Program at 1-800-445-8647.


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