Carbon Monoxide Poisoning: Care Instructions

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Your Care Instructions

Carbon monoxide poisoning occurs when you breathe air that contains too much carbon monoxide. This gas has no color, odor, or taste. You can't tell when you are breathing it. It replaces the oxygen carried in the blood. When this happens, the body's organs and tissues—which depend on oxygen—cannot work properly.

Dangerous levels of carbon monoxide can come from many sources. These include heating systems, car engines, generators, jet ski and boat motors, grills, stoves, and fires. The exhaust from cars can reach dangerous levels in a garage and can leak back into the house. This can happen even when the garage door is open. You can also be exposed to high levels when you ride in the closed back of a truck. A motorboat or jet ski that is idling or working at a slow speed can be dangerous to a swimmer or someone being pulled.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Before you go back to the home or workplace where you were exposed to carbon monoxide, have it tested by your local fire department or utility company. The service may be free.
  • Buy and install a carbon monoxide detector on each level of your home. Do this near sleeping areas too. Some commercial smoke alarms also include carbon monoxide detectors. If the alarm sounds, tell everyone in the house or building to get out. Then call the fire department or your local utility company from a nearby phone.
  • Do not ignore any symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, especially if more than one person in your home or workplace has these symptoms. Symptoms include headaches, nausea, and dizziness.

When should you call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You are confused or have trouble thinking.
  • You have chest pain or pressure. This may occur with:
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, jaw, or one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
    • A fast or uneven pulse.
    After calling 911, chew 1 adult-strength aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • Your shortness of breath gets worse.
  • You continue to vomit.
  • Your headache gets worse.
  • You are dizzy or lightheaded, or you feel like you may faint.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You have any changes in vision, concentration, coordination, or behavior in the next few weeks.
  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.