Every year, dozens of Canadians are killed by carbon monoxide poisoning in their own homes. According to the Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs (OAFC), hundreds more are hospitalized from injuries caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, often with life changing, permanent effects.

Carbon monoxide is odourless, tasteless and invisible, and according to the OAFC, 88 per cent of homes in Canada have something that poses a carbon monoxide risk.

So how does this silent killer work? When carbon monoxide is absorbed through inhalation it immediately begins depleting your body’s oxygen cells. Carbon monoxide is absorbed faster than oxygen by red blood cells. As it replaces the oxygen in your blood, it starves cells and vital organs of their required oxygen. In some cases, death can occur in minutes.

The most common symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are headache, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, weakness, chest pain and confusion, though many fall unconscious before they can remove themselves from the affected area or call for help.

If you’re wondering how carbon monoxide enters your home, you may be surprised by some of the sources. It is found in fumes of automobiles, small gasoline engines, stoves, lanterns, burning charcoal and wood, fireplaces, gas ranges and heating systems. Danger can occur when there is a problem with ventilation, creating a buildup in an enclosed or semi-enclosed space.

Your best defense against carbon monoxide poisoning is to have all heating systems, water heaters and gas, coal or oil burning appliances serviced yearly by qualified technicians. Install battery operated detectors (at knee level) and check them on a bi-yearly schedule. Keeping chimneys free of nests, leaves and debris will ensure proper ventilation and will prevent carbon monoxide buildup.  Always use items that create carbon monoxide with care. Never use these items indoors, in garages or near windows. Never leave a vehicle running in your garage.