Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a toxic gas that you cannot see or smell. CO is given off whenever fuel or other carbon-based materials are burned. Breathing high levels of the gas causes severe illness or death in just minutes due to CO poisoning. Although CO poisoning can be prevented, hundreds of people in the United States die every year, and thousands more people require emergency medical care, as a result of accidental, non-fire related exposure to this toxic gas.

The most common symptoms of CO poisoning are headache, dizziness, weakness, nausea, vomiting, chest pain, and confusion. Breathing high levels of CO can cause loss of consciousness and death. Unless suspected, CO poisoning can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms mimic other illnesses. People who are sleeping or intoxicated can die from CO poisoning before ever experiencing symptoms.

CO Poisoning Data

CO Poisoning & Environment

Exposure and Risk

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is a toxic gas that you cannot see or smell. It is found in exhaust from cars and trucks, lawn and construction equipment, airplanes, boats, and trains.

CO usually comes from sources in or near your home that are not properly maintained or vented. These sources include heating systems, water heaters, portable generators, and gas cooking ranges and appliances. CO from these sources can build up in a place that does not have a good flow of fresh air.

All people and animals are at risk for CO poisoning. Unborn babies, Infants, and people with chronic heart disease, anemia, or respiratory problems are generally more sensitive to its effects.


Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning is preventable. There are several things you can do to ensure you and your family are safe from CO poisoning.

  • DO have your heating system, water heater, and any other gas, oil, or, coal-burning appliances serviced by a qualified technician every year.
  • DO install a battery-powered CO detector (or electric-powered device with battery backup) in your home, near all sleeping areas. As with smoke detectors, replace the battery when changing the time on clocks each spring and fall. If the alarm sounds, leave your home immediately and call 9-1-1.
  • DO seek prompt medical attention if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning and are feeling dizzy, light-headed, or nauseous.
  • DO NOT use a generator, charcoal grill, camp stove, or other gasoline or charcoal-burning device inside the home, basement, or garage; outside near a window; or under a tent.
  • DO NOT run a car or truck inside a garage attached to your house, even if the door is left open.
  • DO NOT burn anything in a stove or fireplace that is not vented or may be clogged.
  • DO NOT use a gas cooking range or oven to heat your home.

CO Poisoning Resource Links