Some of the symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning could easily be mistaken for common ailments like being too tired (headaches) or too much working out (muscle soreness) or getting up too quickly (dizziness). Carbon monoxide (CO) is a clear and odourless toxic gas that won’t make your eyes water or won’t irritate your throat that usually comes from breathing in these gases from household appliances like gas fires, boilers, central heating systems, water heaters, cookers, or open fires which use gas, oil, coal and wood. When a person inhales carbon monoxide from the gas enters their bloodstream frustrating oxygen intake.

Carbon monoxide known as the silent killer since you cannot smell, taste, and it does not make a distinct sound. It can be fatal. The Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have compiled statistics which back this up. Each year, in the US, more than 400 people will die from accidental carbon monoxide poisoning which is not directly related to a fire.  Over 20,000 emergency room visits, and more than 4,000 hospitalizations can be attributed to it.

Some symptoms appear within a few hours of first being exposed while others might take months to show up. The more common symptoms are loss of balance, vision and memory problems and passing out or losing consciousness. The length of time of the exposure will have an impact on the severity of the symptoms. Mild symptoms increase the chance of a making a full. Months later, the person might experience confusion, difficulty with coordination difficulties and more severe long-term problems, including heart damage. It’s important that older individuals with breathing difficulties as well as Pregnant women, babies, and small children tend to be affected more quickly by CO gas.

If one or more people experience the symptoms then all cooking and heating appliances should be turned off, the windows in the building should opened, and the local authorities should be notified. In some jurisdictions the fire department is called.

As a chimney cleaner, I can tell you that having chimneys and flues swept thoroughly regularly by a fully-qualified sweep is advisable. If a fire is burning in a fireplace that’s chimney is obstructed exposure to CO is possible as the combustion gases enter the home. If you notice water streaking or rusting on your chimney or vent or loose masonry on the chimney and soot buildup then you might have CO escaping your chimney and fireplace.

Now what can you do to prevent CO poisoning? The only way to know for sure is to install at least one smoke alarm and a carbon monoxide alarm (UL compliant) on each level of your home and near bedrooms. And always open dampers before using your fireplace. Keeping your appliances including your chimney and fireplace in good working order and have them serviced regularly by a qualified and registered professional will go a long way in preventing CO from entering your home