The silent killer called carbon monoxide

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As temperatures drop and we spend more time indoors, the threat of carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning increases. Each year in the United States more than 400 people will be killed and over 20,000 seen in an emergency room for exposure to this deadly gas.  Fall and winter months pose the highest risk of succumbing to this silent killer as furnaces are turned on and more of our time is spent indoors surrounded by enclosed spaces.

All of us are at risk for CO poisoning but infants, the elderly, people with chronic heart disease, anemia or have breathing problems are more likely to get sick.

Knowing how to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning should be a top priority in protecting your family from this potentially fatal event.

What is carbon monoxide?

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless, and tasteless gas that can kill.  It is found in fumes produced any time fuel is burned in cars, trucks, stoves, lanterns, grills, fireplaces, gas ranges, or furnaces.  Carbon monoxide can buildup to dangerous levels indoors creating a threat to poison both people and animals who breathe it in.

Why is it more dangerous in enclosed spaces?

When there is a lack of adequate ventilation CO can accumulate making it a danger.  If there is inadequate ventilation in enclosed spaces such as a house, garage, car, boat, or RV is when this scenario can occur.  Inadequate ventilation can be due to systems not being maintained or checked regularly or if there is a blockage for ventilation pushing the fumes back into the enclosed space.

What are the warning signs of carbon monoxide leak?

The following are possible signs of CO in your home:

·      Flames of a lazy yellow or orange color on your gas hob rather than being a crisp blue

·      Dark staining on or around appliances

·      A pilot light that frequently blows out

·      Increased condensation inside windows

What are the symptoms of carbon monoxide?

The problem of CO poisoning is that it is an invisible threat – you will not be able to detect it by smell, sight, or taste.  Breathing in a buildup of CO will slowly replace oxygen in red blood cells leading to the following symptoms:

·      Shortness of breath

·      Nausea

·      Dizziness or lightheadedness

·      Headache

·      Vomiting

·      Chest pain

·      Confusion

Many people describe the symptoms of CO poisoning as “flu-like.”  Breathing in too much can cause fainting and anyone who is sleeping or has been drinking alcohol heavily can die from CO poisoning without noticing any symptoms.

How to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning

·      Install a carbon monoxide detector.  Homes without a CO detector are more likely to have CO levels five times higher than homes with one by the time helps arrives. 

·      All appliances should be properly installed and vented adequately.  Each year have a qualified technician inspect and service all heating systems, water heater, and any gas, oil, or coal-burning appliances.

·      Never heat a home with a gas oven or range

·      Keep generators, charcoal grills, camp stoves and other gas or charcoal-burning devices outside at least 20 feet from your home away from windows doors, and vents.

·      Never leave a car motor on when in the garage even if the garage door is open.  The odorless CO can fill a garage quickly seeping into a home that is attached.  If a car is left turned on to warm up in cold weather and snow is on the ground, make sure the exhaust pipe is not blocked by snow.

·      Have your chimney checked or cleaned every year as they can be blocked by debris causing CO to build up in your home.

·      Never patch a vent pipe with tape, gum, or anything else.  This type of patching is not adequate for keeping CO from building up in a home, cabin, or camper.

What to do if you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning?

Get outdoors or open windows immediately to breath in fresh air.  Call 911 for medical help as CO poisoning must be treated by a physician.  They will do a blood or breath test to check for sure if it is CO poisoning. When a CO detector goes off, get outdoors and call 911 for help.