Although carbon monoxide’s reputation as a silent killer is well known, it continues to find unsuspecting victims. Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of any material containing carbon – gasoline, natural gas, oil, propane, coal, or wood. It is harmful because it displaces oxygen in the blood and deprives the heart, brain, and other vital organs of oxygen. It is one of the leading causes of poisoning by inhalation and is a common workplace hazard.
Mild exposure to carbon monoxide can cause nausea, dizziness, or headache. Prolonged or high exposure may worsen symptoms and include vomiting, confusion, collapse, loss of consciousness, and muscle weakness. Symptoms vary from person to person. Severe exposure can result in permanent brain and heart damage or death. Heart and lung conditions, vascular disease, anemic conditions, barbiturate and alcohol use, and smoking increase susceptibility to carbon monoxide poisoning.