Carbon monoxide poisoning, like the case that occurred Thursday in an Oak Brook home, usually occurs slowly over a period of several hours, experts say, but at very high concentrations it can kill in a matter of minutes.
The gas is colorless, odorless, tasteless and nonirritating, experts say. Early symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, including headache, nausea, vomiting and dizziness, can mimic other illnesses.
More significant symptoms include drowsiness, confusion or heart irregularities. Severe poisonings can cause convulsions, unconsciousness, brain damage and even death.
According to the American Medical Association, carbon monoxide poisoning causes 450 deaths and more than 20,000 emergency visits annually.
The Illinois Poison Center's tips to prevent such poisoning include:
• Install carbon monoxide detectors on every floor of your home. The detectors can be found at most discount or hardware stores. Some retailers offer combination carbon monoxide/smoke detectors.
• Have your furnace, vents and fireplace inspected each fall by a professional.
• Do not leave a space heater running, or leave the stove or fireplace burning while you are sleeping.
• When running a gas-powered lawn mower or tool, make sure there is good air flow.
• Never let your car run in the garage, even when the garage door is open.
Illinois law requires all residences with a gas-powered furnace or water heater, or an attached garage, to have a carbon monoxide alarm within 15 feet of all sleeping areas.
"People should probably have one on each floor," said Tony Burda of the Illinois Poison Center. "Outside of bedrooms, in the basement, where you have the main furnace, gas dryers and heaters."
The Illinois Poison Center provides an online poison prevention education course with seven lessons and corresponding quizzes. Anyone 18 or older living and/or working in Illinois is eligible and can sign up at www.IllinoisPoisonCenter.org/outreach.