Carbon Monoxide

If you have any questions or concerns about a poisoning, call your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222. Calls to The Poison Control Center at CHOP are always free, confidential, and staffed by pharmacist and nurse experts.

Quick take on carbon monoxide poisoning

Toxicity? Dangerous

Most common symptoms? Headache, nausea, dizziness, and weakness

When to seek immediate help and call 911? Vomiting, confusion, fainting, difficulty breathing, and in any situation involving someone who is pregnant or an infant.

Has your Carbon Monoxide alarm gone off?

Tired Girl Carbon monoxide (CO) is often called the “silent killer” because it is a gas that is invisible and has no smell. For these reasons, CO often goes unnoticed. CO is a product of combustion, which means that it comes:

  • House fires
  • broken furnaces
  • broken water heaters
  • car fumes, or
  • gas-powered generator fumes

CO accumulating inside your home can lead to a very dangerous situation for you and your family, which makes it important to have CO detectors installed throughout your home.  

Though you may not notice the gas, some symptoms can be the tip-off that something is wrong. These include unexplained headache, dizziness, or the feeling that you want to vomit. Many people in your home may have these symptoms, because CO effects everyone in the household.

Another, much less common way to be poisoned by CO is by ingesting methylene chloride, which is converted in the body to CO. Though uncommon, this ingredient is found in some paint-strippers and bubble light ornaments.

Common methods of exposure

Inhaled? Make sure that everyone leaves the home immediately for fresh air. Call the fire department right away to find the source. They will tell you if and when it is safe to go back inside. Always call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

In the mouth? Do NOT make your child vomit. This can be dangerous. Give water and small snacks to help with an upset stomach. Watch them for coughing or trouble breathing. Always call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

On skin? Remove any contaminated clothing/jewelry and wash the area with soap and water, twice. Call the Poison Control Center at 1-800-222-1222.

What to expect from Carbon Monoxide

  • Headache, dizziness, and nausea – These are the most common symptoms. These symptoms are often mild and should go away with fresh air. If they do not, call 911.
  • Chest Pain – Either chest tightness or trouble taking a full breath can be a symptom of something more serious. Call 911 immediately.
  • Loss of consciousness – If someone around you faints, call 911 immediately.

Preventing carbon monoxide exposure

  • Install CO alarms in your home:
    • One for each floor
    • One near each bedroom
  • Replace your CO alarm’s batteries every six months.
  • Service your furnace and water heater annually by a qualified technician.
  • Have your chimney inspected and swept annually.
  • Keep generators at least 20 feet away from your home.
  • Keep the car exhaust unblocked from snow in the winter
  • Never leave the car engine running in a closed area (like a garage).
  • Never heat your home with a gas oven or burning charcoal.
  • Never use camping appliances indoors.

Next Steps
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What to Expect When You Call

When you call the Poison Control Center, we will ask you a series of questions. Here's what we'll need to know so we can help.

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Poisoning Resources for Professionals

Find treatment tips for poisoning events, clinical pathways, information about toxicology assessments, and more.