Most homeowners know that they don’t want to have a fire in their home, and they don’t want high carbon monoxide (CO) levels. However, few homeowners really understand how serious even a small fire in the home can be and how carbon monoxide can affect them, their family and their pets.
What Is Smoke?
In scientific terms, smoke is suspended carbon molecules and other particles, many of which are already in the air — others depend on what is burning — that come from a burning substance. The smoke from clean sources like firewood is less dangerous than smoke from burning wood that is covered with paint, for example, but all smoke can be potentially harmful to one’s health if there isn’t adequate ventilation.
Of course, in a house fire, adequate ventilation isn’t possible.
What Is Carbon Monoxide?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas that is toxic and highly flammable. Carbon monoxide is produced through the incomplete combustion of carbon atoms. In short, CO is a byproduct of something burning.
While carbon monoxide can get build up in your home during a fire, it can also accumulate through other sources. Most typically, CO buildup is caused by faulty gas or oil appliances. In many American homes, carbon monoxide poisoning is caused by the water heater or stove.
Smoke Can Damage Your Lungs
Being exposed to smoke from an out of control fire can do serious damage to your lungs, even if you’re only exposed to the fire for a few minutes. When a person inhales carbon monoxide, the amount of oxygen in their body decreases.
At first, this is likely to cause lightheadedness and irritation of the lungs and chest. If exposed to smoke and carbon monoxide for a longer period of time, especially if something burning contains chemicals that create other pollutants in the air that should not be inhaled, shortness of breath and asphyxia may set in.
Individuals who are exposed to any type of smoke too often are at a higher risk of developing different types of cancer, lung disease, heart disease and cardiovascular disease. Irritating particles in the smoke are also likely to cause problems including secondary lung infections.
What Happens When You Inhale Smoke?
If you have a fire in your home and are exposed to smoke for more than a few seconds, you’ll begin to notice the typical lightheadedness and shortness of breath. Many people exposed to large amounts of smoke begin to feel sleepy because their brains become deprived of oxygen as they inhale carbon monoxide.
Depending on the amount of smoke in the air, you could immediately begin to the feel the effects of smoke inhalation after 10 to 15 seconds. After 30 seconds to one minute of smoke inhalation, especially if the smoke is thick, you may pass out due to a lack of oxygen in the air.
The Importance Of Smoke And Carbon Monoxide Detectors
You already know how important it is to have working smoke detectors in your home. However, it can be easy to forget to change batteries and check on your smoke detectors – something you really should do about once a month.
Smoke detectors are common, but homeowners should also install carbon monoxide detectors. Many newer model smoke detectors can also detect CO and other poisonous substances like radon. Switch your old smoke detectors out for these more sophisticated units to keep your family safe from harm.