The Silent Killer of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Why Sleeping In Your Car With the Engine On Is Dangerous

The Silent Killer of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Why Sleeping In Your Car With the Engine On Is Dangerous

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Traveling long distances can be exhausting, especially when you’re stuck in traffic. The urge to rest can be overwhelming, but falling asleep in your car with the engine running can be deadly.

What Is Carbon Monoxide?

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colorless, odorless gas produced by burning gasoline, wood, propane, charcoal, or other fuel. It’s impossible to detect without a proper detector, making it a silent threat.

The Dangers of Sleeping In Your Car

When you sleep in a car with the engine running, CO can build up inside the vehicle, especially if windows are closed and ventilation is poor. This situation can lead to CO poisoning.

NOTE ON SOURCE: This is an English rewriting of an original Bahasa Malaysia article that appeared in SinarPlus on 16 April 2024.

Startling Statistics

According to the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, there are approximately 50,000 cases of CO poisoning annually in the U.S., with a mortality rate of 1-3%.

Symptoms of Carbon Monoxide Poisoning

Early symptoms include:

  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Fast heartbeat
  • Difficulty breathing

In severe cases, it can lead to:

  • Coma
  • Convulsions
  • Blurred vision
  • Blindness
  • Death

High-Risk Groups

Certain groups are more vulnerable to CO poisoning, including:

  • Children and the elderly
  • People with chronic diseases (e.g., diabetes, heart problems)
  • Smokers
  • Pets

Preventive Measures

Here are steps to prevent CO poisoning:

  • Install CO Detectors: Place them in your home and garage.
  • Ventilate: Always open windows slightly if you’re idling in your car.
  • Service Your Car: Regularly maintain your vehicle to ensure proper combustion.
  • Awareness: Recognize symptoms early and move to fresh air immediately.

What to Do if You Suspect Poisoning

If you suspect CO poisoning, seek medical help immediately. Treatment typically includes:

  • High-concentration oxygen: Administered to eliminate CO from the blood.
  • Intravenous fluids: To hydrate the body.
  • Monitoring: Intensive care for severe cases, especially for those with pre-existing heart conditions.

Festive Season Travel Tips

During festive seasons, many Malaysians travel long distances. Ensure you:

  • Get enough rest before starting your journey.
  • Turn off the engine and open the window slightly if you need to nap in the car.
  • Avoid cooking in enclosed spaces without proper ventilation.

Stay Safe

Understanding the dangers of carbon monoxide and taking preventive measures can save lives. Always be aware of the risks and stay vigilant to ensure your safety and the safety of your loved ones.

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Dr. Nurul Yaqeen

Consultant Respiratory, Internal Medicine Physician, Sleep Disorders Specialist


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