For some of us, high school biology was a topic to be avoided like the plague, but a good refresher in the basics of breathing will help you understand the importance of carbon monoxide detectors in our homes.
Carbon monoxide is occasionally confused with carbon dioxide. They are both gases produced by burning fossil fuels like oil, gas, and wood. This means your gas or propane furnace and hot water tank, fireplace and automobile all produce carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. As well, both are produced in our bodies; carbon monoxide in trace amounts, and carbon dioxide in larger volumes.
In our circulation, red blood cells are designed to carry oxygen and can carry carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide as well.
Red blood cells pick up oxygen in our lungs and deliver it to our cells throughout our body. As the oxygen reaches the cells, an exchange takes place: Oxygen leaves the red blood cell and enters the tissue cell and carbon dioxide that has been produced inside the tissue cells travel back to the lungs where it is released out into the air. This exchange happens with every breath we take.
When there is increased levels of carbon monoxide present in the air we breathe, it is toxic to us. It enters the lungs where it is picked up by red blood cells. The bond carbon monoxide forms with the red blood cells is 240 TIMES STRONGER than the bond made by oxygen or carbon dioxide.
What this means is when a red blood cell picks up carbon monoxide, it is stuck with it: It will not hop off when it gets to the tissue cells cells nor will it release back to the air upon return to the lungs. This leaves fewer and fewer spaces on the red blood cell available for oxygen be transported depriving our body of essential oxygen.
There are no clues when carbon monoxide is present: carbon monoxide is colorless, odorless, tasteless and does not make us cough or sneeze.
Carbon monoxide poisoning causes headache, nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, and a feeling of weakness. These symptoms are classically associated with many other conditions like the flu, food poisoning and hangovers and so the unsuspecting person does not recognize they are in mortal danger. As more and more carbon monoxide is breathed in, the symptoms worsen and when approximately one half of the red blood cells are saturated with this odorless, colourless and tasteless gas, it can cause seizure, coma and death.
Carbon monoxide alarms are designed and calibrated to alert you to unhealthy levels of carbon monoxide. They are life savers. If your home has a fuel burning appliance or an attached garage, proper placement is to have one installed on each level of your home that has sleeping quarters, no further than 16 feet from those quarters and if any single one alarm sounds, all the alarms should sound.