We've all heard of the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning. It has been ominously dubbed "the silent killer" because of its colorless, odorless, tasteless, and non-irritating properties. As children, we learn a great deal about fire safety, having drills at school and lessons at home from our parents. But many of us are in the dark when it comes to the causes of carbon monoxide poisoning and the best preventative measures to take. Read on to learn what you need to know about the silent killer to protect yourself and your family.

What produces carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide, or CO, is produced by burning fuels. Common items that emit CO gas, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, include: motor vehicles, small engines, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, and furnaces. We all have these items, and aside from common knowledge (like not letting your car run in a closed garage), most of us don't know how to minimize risk.

Why is CO so dangerous?

Carbon monoxide, when inhaled, replaces the oxygen in our blood. If too much CO builds up in a closed room it can cause serious health problems or even death.

Common symptoms from CO poisoning include: headache, dizziness, nausea, confusion, drowsiness, fast breathing or heart rate. If you experience any of these symptoms indoors you should immediately leave the house. If you suspect it could be carbon monoxide exposure call 911.

Who is at Risk?

Everyone can be exposed to carbon monoxide, but some are at greater risk than others. According to Mayo Clinic, the most at-risk people for CO poisoning include:

Unborn babies - fetal blood cells absorb CO faster than regular blood cells, therefore unborn babies experience oxygen deprivation much more rapidly.

Children - kids take breaths more frequently than adults, making them more susceptible to CO poisoning.

Older adults - older people are more likely to experience brain damage from CO exposure.

What preventative steps can you take?

The home is full of potential dangers when it comes to CO poisoning. Here are some of the most important steps you can take to reduce risk:

Buy and maintain CO detectors for your home.

Never use your oven to heat your home.

Never leave a vehicle or small engine running in an enclosed space such as a shed or garage.

Do not use a charcoal grill inside.

Do not use a gas lantern inside a tent for prolonged periods of time.

Don't run a generator in your home or basement.

Have your chimney checked for blockages.

Check the ventilation on your gas appliances.

Fire safety is also carbon monoxide safety - breathing in smoke fumes from a house fire can cause CO poisoning and death.