700 Children's® – A Blog by Pediatric Experts

Is it Flu or Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Jan 26, 2015

Headache, vomiting, dizziness – sounds like the flu, right? It could be but these are also symptoms of something much more serious: carbon monoxide poisoning.

What Is Carbon Monoxide And What Produces It?

Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless and non-irritating gas that can be found in your home. Sources of carbon monoxide include fuel-powered equipment such as generators, snow blowers and water pumps, gas ranges, kerosene heaters, cooking devices, water heaters, furnaces, wood stoves and fire places.

What Are the Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

Mild symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to the flu and include vomiting, dizziness, headaches and confusion. More serious symptoms can occur after prolonged exposure including loss of consciousness, permanent disability or even death.

How Can I Prevent Carbon Monoxide Poisoning?

There are several tips you can follow to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.

  • Do not use items powered by fuel-powered engines indoors. Small fuel-powered engines are a significant source of carbon monoxide. If an emergency generator or fuel-powered water pump is needed, it should be placed outside and far enough away from a house to allow exhaust to dissipate.
  • Do not leave fuel-powered items running in your garage. Items such as snow blowers should never be left running unattended or allowed to run while the operator is standing in or near a garage.
  • Never heat your home with a gas range or kerosene/propane/butane space heater. Carbon monoxide production from these appliances varies greatly depending on the general maintenance of the device and the fuel used. These heaters can be dangerous when used in an emergent setting without proper maintenance.
  • Do not attempt to cook with a charcoal grill or camping stove indoors. While normal cooking with a gas range is unlikely to be dangerous, these items will produce large amounts of carbon monoxide.

How Do I Know If There Is Carbon Monoxide In My Home?

Carbon monoxide can only be detected with a carbon monoxide detector. Every home should have one or more working detectors. The best carbon monoxide detectors are those with battery backup as they can be used when normal electric power is interrupted. Carbon monoxide detectors are readily available and can be purchased at any hardware store.

What Should I Do If I Suspect Carbon Monoxide Is in My Home?

If there is suspicion of carbon monoxide poisoning, leave the site of exposure immediately and call the Central Ohio Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222.

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Featured Expert

Henry Spiller
Henry Spiller
Central Ohio Poison Center

Henry Spiller is the director of the Central Ohio Poison Center. He has spent more than 30 years in toxicology, with more than 300 publications in the field.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.