Carbon monoxide: the silent killer

Carbon monoxide poisoning can mimic common illnesses often seen in school settings – making front line workers (such as teachers, administrators) key in recognizing a developing situation. A key indicator of an issue occurring is onset of symptoms among more than one person within the same space – which may be occurring rapidly.

You don't know it's there, until it's too late

It's called the silent killer because it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless poison. It can only be detected with a detection device – the longer a person is exposed, the more health effects they will experience. If exposed long enough, or to large amounts in a short period of time, organ damage and death can occur.


Breathe in, breathe out

Carbon monoxide in the air rapidly enters all parts of the body, including blood brain and muscles, through breathing in. The carbon monoxide in your body leaves through your lungs when you breathe out. Carbon monoxide binds to your red blood cells, essentially starving your body of the vital oxygen it needs to function correctly.


Acute carbon monoxide poisoning

Acute CO poisoning occurs with short-term high-level exposure and requires immediate medical intervention. Based on exposure duration and amount, as well as the health/age of the person, those exposed may suffer from irreversible organ and brain damage, or even die before anyone recognizes there is a problem.

Escalation of symptoms with acute poisoning can happen quickly:
Starts as: slight headache, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, flu-like symptoms

Moves to: throbbing headache, drowsiness, confusion, fast heart rate

Then: convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage, organ failure, death


Chronic carbon monoxide poisoning

Chronic CO poisoning can occur due to repeated, long-term, low-level exposure and is often missed as the correct diagnosis due to its ability to mimic more common conditions. While victims of chronic CO poisoning are not at risk of immediate death, they will often face long-term health issues that will be unexplained or misdiagnosed during or after continued exposure.

Symptoms of chronic poisoning show themselves over time and can include: behavior changes, mood disorders, recurring/unexplained illnesses, onset of lung/heart/brain damage, body system interference, toxin poisoning symptoms.


Ready to take action?

Visit our TAKE ACTION page where you can get resources to help you better understand the carbon monoxide risk in your school.